The firefighters’ pay dispute in Britain was due to flare up today with the threat of fresh industrial action because of a breakdown in the deal which ended the last conflict.
The Fire Brigades Union was discussing at its annual conference whether to hold a new ballot which could lead to walk-outs within a month.
The union has accused local authority employers of putting up barriers to the deal agreed a year ago to end a series of pay strikes.
The deadlock is holding up payment of a 3.5% increase, backdated to last November, and the Union has now voiced concerns over the next stage of the deal, which is due to deliver a 4.2% rise from July.
Hundreds of delegates from across the UK were discussing the dispute at the FBU conference in Southport.
A ballot for action looks certain to be called although the union has yet to decide whether to threaten strikes or other forms of disruption.
National Officer John McGhee said firefighters felt “anger and contempt” for fire services employers.
“The employers have failed to honour their part of the agreement. It is clear there will be a very hard debate among delegates about how to proceed.
“We are greatly concerned at the employers lack of commitment to the deal and there is now growing anger over whether they will honour next month’s increase.”
A series of 15 strikes brought the fire service to a state of crisis at the end of 2002 and the early months of 2003, with ageing Green Goddess vehicles being brought out of retirement to provide fire cover, manned by members of the military.
Strikes this summer could cause huge problems for the Ministry of Defence because of Britain’s involvement in Iraq.
The FBU conference will also decide today whether to sever the union’s historic links with the Labour Party.
Firefighters across the country remain angry over the British government’s treatment of the Union during the last dispute and many do not want to continue giving money to the party.
A number of union branches, including Strathclyde, Northern Ireland and Berkshire will press for the link to be broken altogether.
Cliff McFadden, the union’s membership secretary in Berkshire will argue that trade unions have no influence with the Labour Party any more so there was no point in giving the party any money.
“The way the [British] government’s treated us during the dispute has had a big impact on the way firefighters regard Labour,” said Mr McFadden ahead of today’s debate.
Mr McFadden resigned from the party during the fire dispute after being an active member for almost 20 years.
Other delegates will oppose this affiliation, arguing there was no other party for union members to support.