FBU pensions victory sets precedent for all public service workers

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THE FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) won a massive victory not only for their members but for all public service workers when the employment tribunal upheld a ruling in December 2018 by the Court of Appeal that Tory-imposed changes to firefighters’ pension schemes constituted age discrimination and was therefore unlawful.

This decision follows a hard-fought struggle by FBU members since the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government pushed through Parliament legislation in 2014 to increase the retirement age of firefighters up from 55 to 60 and increase their pension contributions.

In 2015, new rules imposed a series of detrimental changes to firefighter pensions, including a built-in ‘transitional protection’ which kept older firefighters on better pension schemes while younger members were moved onto a new, worse pension scheme,  including working until aged 60.

Immediately, the FBU launched a campaign of strike action along with legal action against the government to protect the pension rights of its members.

At the same time, judges opened legal proceedings over exactly the same issue and along with the FBU won a landmark case one year ago, that these changes amounted to age discrimination and must be reversed.

Last year’s judgement was upheld this week by the Employment Tribunal opening the door for a flood of legal action from doctors, teachers and public sector workers who have all faced seeing the drastic cuts to the pensions of younger employees.

The immediate effect of this week’s victory is that 6,000 firefighters are entitled to return to their old pre-2015 pension scheme with benefits including a retirement age of between 50 and 55.

The Tories confirmed after the ruling that this decision would have to be applied across all public service pensions – a stunning victory for all public sector workers and a massive blow against the Tories, who now face an annual bill of up to £4 billion to repay the money they attempted to steal from workers.

This landmark victory is a tribute to the fighting determination of FBU members to defend their pension rights but it does not in itself mean that the Tories intend to call a halt to their continuing attack on public sector pensions.

Immediately after the Court of Appeal upholding the FBU’s claim of age discrimination, the then-Tory treasury minister stated: ‘The reasons for the 2015 reforms remain: that public service pensions are a significant cost for the taxpayer, now and in the future. The judgment does not alter the government’s commitment to ensuring that the cost of public service pensions are affordable for taxpayers and sustainable for the long term.’

In fact, it must not be overlooked that the courts ruled these pension cuts illegal because they amounted to age discrimination – they did not find that cutting the pension itself was illegal, just the transition arrangement imposed.

The attack on pensions both in the public sector and especially in the private sector will continue as capitalism regards all pensions as ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unaffordable’ in the face of the acute economic crisis and acting as a drain on profits.

For years, the bosses have been looting pension schemes to keep up their profits while governments have tried every means to impose inferior pensions throughout the public sector to pay off the massive debt caused by bailing out the banks after the 2008 crash.

For the working class, pensions are not a gift handed them by the employer or government; they are paid for by every worker through their direct contributions and through pension schemes always factored into pay negotiations.

Pensions are in fact deferred pay to provide a decent standard of living for workers in their retirement.

The Tories have suffered a massive defeat at the hands of the FBU but the fight to defend pensions must not be left to the courts.

Working class must go forward from this defeat of the Tories to a complete victory by organising a general strike to kick out the Tory government and go forward to a workers government and socialism.

Only by expropriating the bosses and bankers under a socialist economy can a decent life in retirement be guaranteed for everyone.