THE Fire Brigades Union has welcomed an offer from the government in Northern Ireland that would allow firefighters to retire at 55 without financial penalty.
Firefighters in England and Wales will take part in their 14th strike between 10am and 5pm today over attempts from government to drive through proposals that could see firefighters losing 50% of their pensions simply for being forced to retire early as a result of naturally declining fitness.
But following negotiations with the FBU, the Northern Ireland government has agreed that a retirement age of 60 did not reflect the occupational demands of firefighting.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: ‘The offer by the Northern Ireland government clearly demonstrates that allowing firefighters to retire at 55 is both sensible and affordable for government.
‘The proposals are by no means perfect, but nevertheless demonstrate that when both sides are committed to resolving conflict through dialogue, industrial action can be avoided.
‘It’s time for the governments in the rest of the UK to take note of the progress we have made in Northern Ireland and agree a more affordable, workable and fair pension scheme than is currently on offer.’
The union says it would now begin to consult Northern Ireland members on the offer, although not all of the points of their trade dispute have been addressed.
In order to accommodate a retirement age of 55, as part of the proposals firefighters would be expected to pay 12.2% of their salary into the scheme.
In addition the proposals include a reduced ‘accrual rate’, meaning that firefighters would receive less money per year once they retire.
The coalition government’s proposals would see firefighters losing 47.1% of the pension if they are forced to retire at 55 because their fitness has declined.
It’s own evidence – a report by Dr Tony Williams, published in December 2012 – and a recently-obtained report from the University of Bath help demonstrate that the majority of firefighters will be unable to perform front-line duties beyond age 55.
Ahead of today’s strike Colin Jones FBU Holloway Road told News Line: ‘We find ourselves here again without progress.
‘Fire Minister Brandon Lewis refuses to talk, he’s more interested in kebab shops (on a previous strike he kept going on about how his local kebab shop should be voted the best) that’s the level of his commitment to the fire service.
‘We have to join with other public sector unions for a national day of action. We need to talk to the big rail unions, all the public service unions should be brought under one umbrella.
‘We escalated the action and no progress was made. We have to join with other unions because privatisation is like a creeping disease, a cancer spreading through the public sector putting profits before lives. The firemen can’t do it on their own.’
Clearly the whole working class getting together in an indefinite general strike is the only way to resolve the current wages, pensions and jobs crisis.