Firefighters escalate strike action

Published: Friday 24th October 2014 by The News Editor

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Strikes by firefighters are to be escalated after hopes of a breakthrough in a long running dispute over pensions collapsed.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in England will walk out for four days from 6pm on October 31, ending on the evening before Bonfire Night.

The union launched a scathing attack against the Government, accusing ministers of refusing to bring any new offer to the table despite two months of talks.

Officials said it was clear the coalition did not want to resolve the dispute and was “spoiling for a fight”.

Firefighters have been on strike at regular intervals in the past 18 months in protest at changes to their pensions and retirement age, which the union has warned will lead to firemen and women facing the sack if they do not work into their 60s.

The FBU said the Westminster government was now “isolated”, with new proposals being put forward in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The union said it had put forward detailed proposals aimed at breaking the deadlock during meetings with Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt, adding that she had appeared open to the possibility of movement on issues such as the retirement age,

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters are incandescent following two months of negotiations which have led to no new proposals.

“Firefighters will not stand by and see our members’ pension rights destroyed by a Government which does not give a damn about the safety or wellbeing of firefighters or the long term.

“The public do not want 60-year-olds tackling fires. Everyone understand the stupidity of these plans – except government ministers.

“We remain committed to resolving this dispute in the interests of our members and the public at large.”

The FBU has opposed government plans to change firefighter pensions and the union said it had presented large quantities of professional evidence to demonstrate the proposals do not take account of the “real operational demands” or standards of a firefighter’s role.

Officials point out that under the Government’s proposals, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.

“Due to the rigorous fitness requirements of the fire service, many firefighters are expected to be unable to work to 60 and therefore risk losing half of their pension.

“The public will also be put at risk with every likelihood that increasing numbers of 60-year-old firefighters will be attending the most serious of incidents,” said the union.

Mr Wrack added: “The fact the Westminster government now stands alone in this dispute shows they are ignoring all the evidence and spoiling for a fight. They do not care less about firefighters or the fire and rescue service.”

The FBU said Northern Ireland has offered a scheme with a lower normal pension age of 55, Scotland has offered a scheme with more protection and a guarantee not to sack firefighters for losing fitness as they get older, and Wales is proposing a much better flexible retirement option

The last strikes were in August, after which the FBU said the Fire Minister appeared to open the possibility for movement on a number of key issues.

Fire authorities across the country have spent millions of pounds hiring contractors to cover for striking FBU members over the past 18 months.

Fiona Twycross, Labour’s fire spokesperson on the London Assembly, said: “Despite the Fire Brigades Union calling off strikes and negotiating in good faith, the Government is clearly not willing to listen and has not made a new offer to firefighters even though they clearly indicated this would happen.

“It is clear that the FBU feel the Government’s stance means the only way they can have their case heard is to press it through strike action. It is deeply disappointing that we have got to this position and I urge all sides to get back to the negotiating table.

“The proposal at the heart of this dispute, that firefighters should work until they are 60 or see their pension cut, is a heartless assault on those who spend their lives running into harm’s way to protect the public.”

There have been 46 separate periods of strike action since the row flared.

The FBU said it expected around 36,000 firefighters to take part in the new walkouts.

Published: Friday 24th October 2014 by The News Editor

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