Government accused over fire strike

Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The Government has been accused of refusing to negotiate with firefighters ahead of a fresh strike in a bitter row over pensions.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in England will walk out for 24 hours from 7am on Wednesday, forcing brigades across the country to put contingency plans into place.

The London brigade warned that a normal service will not be provided during the strike, with less serious incidents such as fire alarms and bin fires left unattended.

The union said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but an “unworkable” scheme was being imposed by the Westminster government.

The FBU has accused fire minister Penny Mordaunt of misleading Parliament after she told MPs that if a firefighter loses fitness through no fault of their own, they should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.

The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Government ministers have ignored three written requests in the last few weeks by the union to meet to try to resolve this dispute.

“Government ministers are quick to call this union militant and yet it’s them who still refuse to talk to us when we remain ready to meet and negotiate at any time.

“Firefighters from all across the UK are attending a rally in Westminster on Wednesday in a ‘No More Lies’ protest aiming to hold this Government accountable for the way it has misled Parliament, the public and firefighters alike.”

London fire commissioner Ron Dobson said: “As this is the first strike in three months there is a real concern that people will have forgotten about our arrangements and the incidents contingency crews will attend.

“There will be 27 fire engines available across London but we will not be providing our usual service so people must take steps to prevent fires.

“Keep a closer eye on your cooking, make sure cigarettes are properly extinguished and never leave candles unsupervised. I’d particularly like Londoners to look out for vulnerable residents, especially those with mobility issues.”

Mr Wrack has written to the Prime Minister saying that firefighters were committed to resolving the dispute through negotiations but warning that the “false guarantee” given by the Fire Minister was a “clear case of Parliament being misled”.

He added: “This has been the pattern throughout negotiations and a key reason why firefighters in England remain extremely angry at the failure of the Government to take proper account of the evidence available.

“This has now become a matter not simply of policy but of trust and confidence in the Parliamentary procedure and your stewardship.”

The FBU has also written to all MPs as well as the Speaker John Bercow asking what they intend to do knowing that Parliament was “misled”.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “All fire and rescue authorities have robust and well tested strike contingency plans in place that include back up support if needed.

“Public safety is our priority and if anyone needs emergency assistance they should dial 999 and they will get a response from their fire and rescue service.

“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.

“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so. If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”

Published: Tuesday 24th February 2015 by The News Editor

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