Firefighters To Strike Again Over Pensions

Trade unionists from the RMT, TSSA, Unison and the GMB joined the FBU picket line outside Euston fire station on September 25
Trade unionists from the RMT, TSSA, Unison and the GMB joined the FBU picket line outside Euston fire station on September 25

FIREFIGHTERS in England and Wales will strike again over government attacks on pensions next Saturday, 19 October, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) announced on Friday.

The strike will last for five hours, between 6.30pm and 11.30pm on Saturday 19 October.

The FBU has organised a national demonstration in London on Wednesday 16 October.

It said: ‘This is an opportunity for firefighters, our families and friends to tell the Westminster government to stop cutting our fire and rescue service and to provide decent pensions for all.’

An FBU leaflet and poster have been sent to members and fire stations. Assemble at Malet St, London WC1E 7HY at 11.00am.

Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: ‘We had hoped our first strike was enough to show government that firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions.

‘No firefighter wants to strike, and it’s desperately disappointing that governments in Westminster and Cardiff continue to deny reality over pensions costs and the need for a pension scheme that reflects the job firefighters do.

‘Firefighters simply cannot be expected to fight fires and rescue families in their late-50s and into their 60s, and should not pay far worse ratios employer-employee contributions than those in the public or private sector.

‘We hope this second strike will mean both governments will be willing to discuss the full range of concerns that firefighters and the general public have expressed.

‘However, more strikes cannot be ruled out if that’s what it takes to protect public and firefighter safety from these ludicrous attacks.’

Firefighters in Scotland will not strike, after voting in a consultation that proposals from the Scottish government are sufficient to prevent a strike at the current time, although the union has been keen to emphasise that no final settlement has been made.

The Scottish government has called on the government in Westminster to address the outstanding issues in dispute so as not to disadvantage firefighters elsewhere.

On Wednesday, Fire Minister Brandon Lewis wrote to the FBU saying that the problem of firefighters facing the sack for getting older was an issue for ‘individual fire and rescue authorities, rather than central government,’ and offering to help arrange discussions with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).

However, firefighters have been clear that resolving the problem over retirement age requires the involvement of central government — and that all eight of the points in firefighters’ trade dispute must be ‘on the table’ during discussions.

The government’s own figures have shown that thousands of firefighters could face the sack without access to a proper pension simply because they are getting older.

A recent government review found that over half of current firefighters between the ages of 50 and 54 are no longer able to meet fire and rescue service fitness standards for fighting fires. Beyond the age of 55, two thirds fail to meet the standards.

And although the government has previously claimed that older firefighters could be moved to less physically demanding roles, FBU research found only a handful of ‘redeployment’ opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning mass sackings would be inevitable.

Firefighters already pay some of the highest pension contributions in the UK public or private sector and have seen increases for two consecutive years.

The majority of firefighters already pay almost 13% of their salary in contributions with further increases due next year. This will mean some firefighters now face an increase six years in a row.

Firefighters in London who wear their uniform to next Wednesday’s demonstration could face legal action from the London Fire Brigade.

Firefighters will protest next week over dangerous cuts to fire and rescue services across the country and proposals over pensions and retirement age that could see firefighters sacked for failing fitness tests in their 50s.

The Fire Brigades Union had encouraged members to wear their uniforms in a tradition that dates back almost a century.

However, in a letter, London Fire Brigade Commissioner Ron Dobson, said that firefighters did not have the right to wear the uniforms outside the workplace, threatening legal action.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘This is simply an ill judged attempt to bully and intimidate members and to prevent them from demonstrating publicly that they are firefighters when protesting against the attacks on firefighters and on the fire service.

‘Threats like this will be a far greater encouragement to members to wear their tunics than any circular from regional officials.

‘There is a clear and long established custom and practice that members may wear their tunics and uniforms at such events so that any instruction issued by LFEPA suggesting otherwise is invalid.’

Across the country, firefighters are gearing up for the national demonstration against cuts to the fire and rescue service and government attacks on pensions in London on Wednesday 16 October.

From Norfolk alone, 100 Fire Brigades Union members have confirmed their attendance, with a coach and minibus picking up activists from Great Yarmouth, Acle and Norwich.

FBU Norfolk organiser, Ricky Braddon, said: ‘As a union within this brigade we are more determined than excited about the prospect of attending the national demonstration in London.

‘The large turnout for such a small brigade just shows the solidarity amongst our members and hopefully this will go someway to show the government that we are not prepared to just stand by and let them bulldoze their way through.

‘It is absolutely disgusting the proposals that they have put forward.

‘Not only do they expect a firefighter reaching 60 to do a job that is arduous to someone half that age but they expect them to be at a higher fitness level than they were perhaps 10 or 20 years ago.

‘They are expecting things from us that are totally unrealistic and unachievable.

‘This will inevitably put firefighters, and members of the public lives at risk.

‘We cannot let this happen and we will do everything we can to try to prevent it.’