THOUSANDS of firefighters are marching on Westminster today against government cuts to the fire and rescue service and attacks on their pensions.
Coachloads of firefighters are descending on London from all parts of the UK for today’s demonstration, which assembles at 10.30am in Malet St, ahead of this Saturday’s five-hour strike by firefighters in England and Wales.
Yesterday morning a number of leading FBU officers spoke to News Line about the issues involved.
Kevin Herniman, South West FBU Regional Chair, told News Line: ‘We are demonstrating to show we are strong and fed up with the way the government is treating us over pensions.
‘What they are saying is that they want us to work till we’re 60. It’s a very physical demanding job. Our members and the public will be put at risk.
‘Also, if our members can’t pass the medical at any age up to the age of 60, they will get the sack, which means no job, no pension, no money.
‘There should be united action across the public sector. Public sector workers across the country are being treated shabbily and should act together to defend jobs and services.’
Del Godfrey-Shaw, East Anglia Regional Officer, said: ‘There is enormous feeling. The fitness levels is the main thing. The government’s own reports found that once a firefighter gets over 55 approximately two-thirds of firefighters would fail and be open to getting the sack.
‘In fact, our pension scheme is the worst of all those that are being redefined, with the worst employee-employer contribution ratio of any of them.
‘There is a push from union officials and members for co-ordinated strike action across the public sector, where everybody acts to highlight job losses, pensions, privatisation – a whole raft of issues. That hasn’t been done, but I think it should.’
Paul Cockburn, Brigade Secretary FBU West Midlands, said: ‘We’ve got two coaches and approximately 100 members coming.
‘The government are ignoring their own report on firefighter pensions and fitness. They set up the review, they appointed the chair, but they have almost entirely ignored its findings, because a lot of the points made in the report back up the fbu evidence and argument.
‘A lot of our members think we would be a lot more effective if we joined up in action with other public sector unions.
‘In our ballot for strike action 78% of firefighters voted for action, we are united in our struggle and that gives us great strength.’
FBU leader Matt Wrack has intervened in the ‘tunicgate’ row, after the London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dobson claimed firefighters did not have the right to wear uniforms outside the workplace, and threatened legal action.
But Wrack insisted: ‘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.’