NO GUARANTEES GIVEN ON CAPABILITY DISMISSALS – FBU leader Wrack reveals

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The picket line at Euston fire station on September 25, with FBU pickets backed by local trade unions
The picket line at Euston fire station on September 25, with FBU pickets backed by local trade unions

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack wrote a letter on Wednesday to all FBU members about pensions.

He wrote: ‘There have been a number of developments over the past week which members need to be aware of.

‘The Executive Council meets on Friday this week and on the same day Brigade, Regional and Sectional Officials from across the country are meeting in Leeds to hear reports of the latest developments and way forward.

‘Discussions with the employers and government around the issue of No Job No Pension have been of particular significance this week.

‘This issue has been a central one to the discussion on firefighter pensions since 2005 i.e. before the introduction of the 2006 pension scheme.

‘The FBU has always argued that firefighters will be unable (in sufficient numbers) to maintain operational levels of fitness into their late 50s and beyond.

‘This creates the risk that large numbers would be left facing the risk of No Job No Pension as employers would be unable to pay a pension and firefighters unable to continue in operational roles.

‘This argument has been central to our campaign to defend pension rights ever since.

There are various strands to our arguments and our campaign (for example, improved protection; no further contribution increases).

‘This strand (No Job No Pension) is of particular concern to any member who is not currently covered by the proposed protection arrangements and any member of the post-2006 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme.

‘In 2005/2006 they argued that firefighters would be re-deployed into non-operational roles as they aged.

‘We subsequently demonstrated very clearly that such opportunities do not exist on any large scale in the Fire Service. It is important to note that throughout our most recent discussions, Westminster government ministers and officials have completely denied that any such problem exists.

‘They have argued consistently that there is no risk to firefighters of No Job No Pension arising from their proposals and that everyone who is in the Service will be able to maintain operational fitness levels until the age of 60. This is flatly contradicted by the evidence. FBU concerns about dismissals are confirmed by the employers.

‘In a tri-partite meeting (FBU; CLG; employers) last week, the Fire Service employers confirmed very clearly that there is a risk that firefighters might face capability dismissal in the circumstances outlined by the union.

‘While not agreeing with the union on the numbers likely to be involved, this was extremely significant.

‘In front of government officials it was confirmed that the FBU was correct on a key aspect of our argument with government.

‘This was the first time that this argument has been conceded in this way despite the fact that we have been making it with the current government for over two years.

‘Following this discussion, we are aware that there have been several subsequent meetings between government and the employers, presumably as they try to address this problem.

‘This goes to the heart of their pension changes and demonstrates very clearly that the proposals are not based upon any Fire Service evidence whatsoever. As the FBU has argued throughout, the government has simply ignored the evidence at every step of the way.

‘Following this discussion, there appeared to be a very sudden shift in position by both government and employers. Both stated their aim to produce a set of principles based upon those already discussed in Scotland.

‘The employers then wrote to us on 17 October setting out a set of principles. The Executive Council postponed the planned strike in order to pursue further discussions.

‘It is absolutely essential, for any member not covered by the current protection arrangements, that this issue is addressed.

‘Officials met with representatives of the employers on Monday 21 October to discuss this issue and to identify precisely what was meant by their letter and proposals. The union also took legal advice on various aspects of the pension scheme regulations and the relevant legislation.

‘This meeting allowed us to confirm that the employers are not willing to provide any guarantee that firefighters will not face capability dismissals in the circumstances we have highlighted (age-related decline in fitness).

‘They argue that they are unable to provide any such guarantee because of the current pension regulations.

‘They agreed that a different regulation on this point would allow the approach sought by the union. That would require government to address the issue in the scheme regulations.

‘It is important to note the significance of these developments. These are concerns we have been raising for several years, and particularly over the past two years.

‘FBU members will note that this threat (No Job No Pension) has been dismissed at a national and local level by government as well as by individual Chief Officers, Fire Authorities and others, not least when strike action has been threatened.

‘The FBU has been correct to highlight this point throughout. We have also been clear with ministers and with the employers that the union requires clear and robust procedures to address this.

‘This should include the ability to early access to an unreduced pension for members in these circumstances.

‘The issue of No Job No Pension is, of course, only one aspect of our trade dispute and this has been clearly explained to government officials and to ministers, including in the attached letter to Brandon Lewis.

‘The Executive Council will now consider these issues and our next steps. More detailed reports will be given to local officials at the national meeting this coming Friday.’

On Friday October 18, 2013 the FBU wrote to members, saying: ‘The planned firefighters’ strike tomorrow evening has been postponed, after last-minute shifts in stated positions of the government and the employers, which they claim effectively guarantee that no firefighter will be left without either a job or an unreduced pension.

‘The FBU received a letter from the fire service employers outlining principles on fitness and capability similar to those proposed in Scotland.

‘The union also received further commitments from the English fire minister to adopt the Scottish principles on “no job, no pension”, as well as a review of fitness training, monitoring and application.’

‘Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary said today: “FBU members want firm guarantees and not just fine words. We have given government the opportunity to progress this matter seriously.

“The Fire Minister has said that the proposal from the employers removes the threat of ‘no job, no pension’.”

‘Firefighters will have serious concerns about this claim and will want cast-iron guarantees that this will be addressed properly.

‘The FBU has temporally postponed the planned strike to enable these guarantees to be firmed up. There are a number of important and unresolved elements of our dispute and we need to be clear that we may have to resort to further strike action.’