THERE were strong picket lines outside fire stations throughout England and Wales between 10am-2pm on Wednesday afternoon, as the Fire Brigades Union held its third strike against the Coalition’s vicious attacks on firefighters’ pensions.
The FBU is fighting against attempts by the Coalition to smash up the firefighters’ pension scheme.
The attack involves massively increasing the employee pension contribution, forcing firefighters to work to the age of 60, with the Sword of Damocles hanging over them that if they fail the extremely arduous fitness regime required they are likely to be sacked during their fifties, with no access to their pension until they reach the age of 67.
The attack has galvanised the anger of FBU members, as was vividly expressed on picket lines around the country on Wednesday.
Euston FBU Branch Secretary Dan Giblin told News Line: ‘We have 100 per cent support as always, and there is loads of public support.
‘We are calling this the Brandon Lewis (Coalition Fire Minister) Strike on account of him removing an improved offer he made in June that offered some protection for fire fighters.
‘We are now left with a worsened position, paying £4,000 a year in pension contributions and after 35 years, being left with a pension that is only worth £9,000 a year.
‘The Government are bankrupting our pensions to set us up for privatisation.
‘The mayor of London is still out to close ten fire stations and axe over 500 firefighter jobs.
‘That shows no regard for public safety let alone our livelihoods.
‘The government needs to get back round the table and give firefighters a fair settlement so there will be further industrial action into the New Year.’
At Clerkenwell fire station in the City of London, Greg Edwards, London FBU official said: ‘What the strike is about today is the pensions we think are unsustainable from the government.
‘The government are not listening to our arguments over the sustainability of the scheme and the fact that as we get older we won’t be as fit.
‘Once again we are forced to take strike action to defend our future livelihoods.
‘There will have to be more strikes. We have to keep the pressure on the government. Only strikes seem to get their attention
‘Workers in general need to realise what is happening and stand up for themselves.
‘If it takes a general strike then that is what it will have to be. If that is the only thing that will work to stop the attacks on workers rights.
‘I’m fed up with hearing the government saying, “We are all in it together”, then you hear of them claiming heating allowances for their second homes.’
At Holloway Fire Station in North London, there was a good strong picket line of about a dozen firefighters.
FBU Rep Colin Jones told News Line: ‘The union don’t seem to put out concise information about what’s going on.
‘In reality this is a pay cut. I’m paying £100 more this year for my pension than the same time last year.
‘We haven’t had a wage increase on that scale. It’s a 2% increase and rising in my pension contribution but only half that much in pay rise, and the government are talking about making it higher still.
‘The main thing now is the ill-health issue, where you’d be retired early without your pension and have to wait to 67 to get it.
‘All we’re seeking is a guarantee that that won’t happen. The government would basically be short-changing us and it’s a huge cost saver for them by penalising our retirement that we’ve all put into.
‘We’re balloting now for a work-to-rule, which does have a big effect on day-to-day running because a lot of the work depends on our goodwill.
‘We need a united front from the unions in the public sector to fight this government’s privatisation plans, otherwise we’ll have private companies looking after their shareholders and not giving a damn about the low-paid workers that are running things.’
At Northolt Fire Station in north west London there was a strong picket of about 20 firefighters.
Jason Hunter, Northolt FBU Rep, told News Line: ‘We are again on the picket line opposed to the government changes to our pensions.
‘We are willing to continue this fight for as long as is needed to win our dispute.
‘All we are asking for is for the pensions we signed up for to be honoured.’
Dave Shek, North West London Area FBU Secretary, said: ‘This our fourth strike due to lack of movement on our pensions.
‘We pay £4,000 per year for our pensions. The average firefighter’s take home pay is £1,600 per month. We are not asking for a lot, just what we signed up for.
‘We want to do our job safely, not just for us but for the public.
‘We hope Tory MP Brandon Lewis will see sense before it’s too late. If not we will escalate our industrial action.’
At Cheltenham West Fire Station in Gloucestershire, there was a strong picket of more than 20 firefighters along with a brazier.
Mike Tulley, Gloucester Brigade Secretary, told News Line: ‘Regionally the strike is solid. Hopefully we’ll win it through meaningful discussion, all the evidence and even the government’s own report shows that, in the worst case scenario over 90 per cent of firefighters would not be able to work up to the age of 60.
‘We are a public sector service, not for profit, we’re very good value.
‘Gloucestershire Brigade costs 30 pence a day out of taxes, ultimately, if we can’t change the government’s mind, we’ll have to consider other action.
‘The public support has been overwhelming.’
FBU firefighter Kate Blundy said: ‘I personally don’t think we can change the government’s mind.
‘But I’m standing up for what I think is right and fair for myself and my colleagues.
‘A public sector alliance would give us a stronger voice.’
At Kentish Town Fire Station in North London FBU Member Dave Currie said: ‘We are fighting a continued attack on the whole of the public sector, not just the fire service.
‘The rich get rich and we get hammered, we are paying for it.
‘They sold off the Royal Mail, and they are privatising the NHS bit by bit.
‘They want to get hold of everything in the public sector so that they can privatise. They run things down and sell them off. There should be a general strike.’
Strong picket lines were out in Norwich.
At Carrow Fire station, a good crowd gathered round the banners.
Stefan Rider said: ‘It’s really not going anywhere. We’re still waiting for the government to enter meaningful negotiations with us.
‘They’re getting worse. They’re trying to push us into a pension scheme where pension age is unattainable and the punish us by taking a great chunk out of our pension.’
Nicki Rider, of Unison, said: ‘I think the public sector should coordinate their action across health, education, fire and ambulance.’
Stefan said: ‘We are all service users and we need to get together.
‘The fire service’s college is now privatised and run by Capita. I’d like to see every union member in the country walk out for 24-hours and see how the government copes with a shutdown of the country.’
Dan Godward, firefighter on Sprowston picket line said: ‘We want something that has the least effect on us and the most effect on them. It would be nice if action was coordinated with other public sector workers.’