Over 90% of firefighters vote for strike action in Northern Ireland
Marc Mallet reports from NIFRS HQ.
Firefighters have voted overwhelmingly for strike action on pay in Northern Ireland.
The Fire Brigades Union said firefighters across the UK delivered a "decisive mandate" for strike action, with 88% voting Yes on a 73% turnout.
The strike ballot opened on 5 December and closed on 30 January.
In Northern Ireland, 94% of those balloted voted yes, with a turnout of 68%.
The Fire Service has said it would consider bringing in the Army should firefighters stage a walkout.
The Fire Brigades Union has given the government and employers 10 days to come forward with an improved offer which could be put to a vote of members. The strikes would be the first nation-wide fire strike over pay since 2003. FBU members rejected a below-inflation 5% pay offer in November last year. The union says the vote on industrial action follows more than a decade of real terms pay cuts.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "Firefighters in Northern Ireland have spoken.
"This is an overwhelming vote for strike action by Northern Ireland firefighters against an offer which would mean further significant cuts to real terms wages for firefighters and control room staff. They have already lost at least 12% of the value of their pay since 2010.
"Northern Ireland is one of the FBU's strongest areas in terms of membership and support for industrial action; this vote demonstrates that very clearly.
"The severity of the situation has been highlighted in recent days, with reports that troops will be drafted into Northern Ireland during the dispute. "The responsibility for this mess lies with UK government ministers and with fire service employers across the UK. As a union, we remain open to dialogue with the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service. We still hope we can avoid a strike.
"Firefighters were among Northern Ireland's Covid heroes who kept frontline services going during the pandemic. The Prime Minister has badly misjudged the public mood by imposing pay cuts on key workers. "Our members risk their health and safety, and sometimes their lives, round the clock to keep people safe and serve their communities. However, with inflation and energy bills rocketing, they are now increasingly struggling to pay the bills or to afford the basics. "We have delayed calling strikes to allow the employers to meet us and to make a new offer. I hope they take that opportunity. Otherwise, in the coming weeks, we intend to announce a series of strike dates and industrial action."
Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) Interim Chief Fire & Rescue Officer Andy Hearn said:
“I fully respect and recognise the outcome of the ballot. I wholly support a pay increase for our Firefighters and absolutely recognise the right of Firefighters to participate in peaceful strike action. “This is a national issue which we are closely monitoring. We will continue to engage with the FBU, National Joint Council, Department of Health and other key stakeholders. “As an organisation we have a legal responsibility to prepare for strike action and a legal responsibility to deliver our statutory duty. In terms of contingency planning, discussions are ongoing with the FBU to reach clarity about the special arrangements they are prepared to agree for NIFRS which would enable Firefighters to respond to certain categories of high risk calls, should a strike go ahead. “We recognise that the outcome of this ballot may cause concern or feelings of uncertainty amongst the community that we serve. I want to reassure the community that we are doing everything we can to resolve this national issue. We will know more about what this ballot means for us as a Service in the coming days and weeks and we will continue to provide updates as appropriate.”
On Friday, NIFRS said the need for troops to provide cover for striking firefighters "will be progressed through further discussions".
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.