Threats to collective bargaining in the Fire and Rescue Service: An analysis

This publication analyses the attacks to collective bargaining via pay review bodies proposed by the Government

Dan Blackburn | Nov 2021
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About the book

The National Joint Council for Local Authority Fire and Rescue Services (NJC) is a robust and longestablished vehicle for discussion, negotiation and agreement. The NJC has stood the test of time, retains the support of employers and unions, and proved its worth and efficacy during the pandemic. The NJC exists on the basis of a voluntary agreement, and is not dependant on government or legislative support. It cannot be ‘repealed’, and the Government has limited options to interfere with such a private agreement, short of radical action that would be an affront to both fundamental legal concepts about the freedom of contract, and to the voluntary traditions of the British industrial relations system.

While ultimately the Government might seek to proceed with such a radical intrusion, it would be required to justify this action under international law, as the union would almost certainly mount a challenge. Several international treaties place powerful negative obligations on the State to refrain from interference in existing bargaining arrangements, particularly where these demonstrate the effectiveness, continuity, stability and support of the Fire and Rescue Service NJC.

There are also matters of domestic law that will present procedural barriers to any attempt at significant re-structuring of Fire and Rescue Service industrial relations, such as are proposed. Primary legislation will be required to repeal a power arising under the Fire and Rescue Service Act 2004, that obligates the Secretary of State to keep under consideration the establishment of ‘negotiating bodies’ (PRBs will not meet this standard).

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