[Sinn Fein]

30th March 2003

Sinn Fein Ard Fheis 2003

Sue Ramsey MLA supporting Motion 81 on Health

In supporting motion 81 which calls on both administrations in the 6 and 26 counties to provide adequate funding for the emergency services. Adequate funding also includes adequate pay for those working in these services. I would therefore urge this Ard Fheis to reiterate its support of the fire brigade union in the 6 counties in their campaign to gain a decent wage for its members.

The approach of the British government to the dispute has been scandalous. The British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has been using Britain's illegal invasion of Iraq as a pretext for trampling over the democratic rights of workers. He has announced that if the fire fighters do not accept the offer being presented to them, he will introduce an emergency law for allowing him to impose a pay settlement and to direct the operations of the fire service.

His reason? The fire dispute is keeping 19,000 British military personnel from contributing to the carnage in the gulf. If struggling for a decent wage was not enough justification for a fire fighters' strike, then Prescott's announcement provides an irrefutable reason for the fire fighters to continue their dispute with vigour.

It beggars belief that a British government that calls itself labour is prepared to sign away worker's rights to collective bargaining at the stroke of a pen because those workers will not agree to a settlement being imposed on them.

The right of a worker to withdraw his or her labour is a fundamental right. It would seem that the British government is rapidly heading towards a position where it will seek to deny that right. If it goes down that line, it will do damage to this emergency service. The fire service is dependent upon the professionalism, enthusiasm and good will of its workers. Fire fighters do a dangerous, difficult and complicated job. To treat them in such a disrespectful way cannot but affect their morale. Low morale is not the way to get the best out of people, especially people who we expect to put their lives on the line if needs be. Rather than improving the efficiency of the fire service, the approach being adopted by the British government is almost certainly going to have the effect of compromising efficiency.

By threatening the FBU in the way that he has, John Prescott has thrown down a gauntlet to all trades unionists he is saying essentially that he will not tolerate industrial dissent. No one should underestimate the seriousness of this challenge. If the British Government gets away with it in this case, it will use it again in future disputes. It is therefore important that all those who seek for a fair and just society where governments cannot impose unjust laws at a whim support the fire fighters.

So to some up, I would urge delegates to support motion 81 The fire fighters deserve our support because they have a good case for their demands, they deserve our support because of the effect their dispute is having on the British war effort in Iraq, and they deserve our support because if the British government gets away with such an approach to industrial relations, then other groups of workers will surely bear the brunt of its arrogance in the future.

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