Fire chiefs set to write off mistake pay
AROUND £50,000 of taxpayers' money could be written off in a bid to avert industrial action by firefighters who have been mistakenly overpaid. Officers at every station in Essex have been affected by a blunder, made at the fire service headquarters' payroll department, with some workers receiving up to an extra £1,000 on top of their normal salary.
AROUND £50,000 of taxpayers' money could be written off in a bid to avert industrial action by firefighters who have been mistakenly overpaid.
Officers at every station in Essex have been affected by a blunder, made at the fire service headquarters' payroll department, with some workers receiving up to an extra £1,000 on top of their normal salary.
The error was made after major wage changes were introduced following the fire strikes of 2003.
But workers are opposed to paying the cash back, claiming the mistake was their employer's responsibility. They said they did not notice the error as the money was paid in small amounts over a long period.
The situation has threatened to destabilise relations between the service and the union, which insiders said have been improving in the past year.
A report to be considered by Essex Fire Authority members next week reveals firefighters were originally told to return the money.
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But there was an about turn because of the "significant reaction" from stations, and the county's Chief Fire Officer, David Turner, has now recommended the money should be written off.
He has also asked for the overpayments, made to about 100 people, to be investigated by external auditors.
His report states: "The view, from some of those firefighters who were overpaid, was that the overpayment was a clerical mistake that is the employer's responsibly. This has now become a significant industrial relations issue.
"The adoption of a confrontational approach over this issue may have adverse reactions elsewhere in our dealings with employee representatives."
Last night, Keith Flynn, secretary for the Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) in Essex said he hoped the authority would stick to Mr Turner's recommendation.
"It is being opposed because of the way it has been dealt with, not individually but as a blanket request, leaving people upset at the way they have been treated," he said.
"If it is not paid, I think that would be disastrous for Essex in the current climate. From the late 1990s there has been a lot of conflict between Essex FBU and the service management.
"There is new management and we have slowly been building bridges and making progress and things are starting to be more positive.
"The membership has seen that things have been moving forward, but if they want to go to the meeting and have arguments, it could set things back five or 10 years.
"I really hope that the service takes a mature attitude and averts industrial action."
He added the FBU only became aware of the issue when it started receiving letters from irate firefighters.