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25.04.14

Firefighters to strike ‘again’ over pensions

Firefighters across England and Wales will take part in further industrial action over their pensions on the 2, 3 and 4 May, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has confirmed. 

Negotiations between the FBU and the Department for Communities and Local Government — as well as the devolved governments — have been taking place for three years, and since the last strike on 3 January 2014, both the union and government have undertaken work examining financial, technical and legal issues. 

Following the last meeting of the union’s executive council on 9 and 10 April, the FBU wrote to the fire minister, Brandon Lewis, saying that if it hadn’t received any proposals by 24 April, it would conclude that the government was unwilling or unable to offer any improvement. 

In a letter dated 23 April, Lewis commended the way in which the union had engaged with government on several fronts, but did not present any new proposals. 

Therefore, FBU members will walk out for five hours from 12pm on 2 May, between 2pm and 2am on 3 May and between 10am and 3pm on 4 May. 

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “After three years of negotiations and an intense four months presenting an indisputable, evidence-based case for the need to ensure a pension scheme that takes into account the unique occupation of firefighting, the government is still burying its head in the sand. 

“Several members of government were only too keen to praise firefighters during the winter floods, but their words amount to nothing when they simultaneously ignore issues that threaten the future of firefighters and their families.” 

But Lewis said that by calling the “unnecessary” strike action, the FBU has shown it is not “serious” about finding a resolution to the dispute. 

He added that the current deal on the table gives firefighters one of the “most generous pension schemes” in all the public sector, and the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme. 

Lewis stated: “Nearly half will see no change and even firefighters who are not protected will see no change until 2015. Under the new scheme, a firefighter who earns £29,000 will still be able to retire after a full career aged 60, get a £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.” 

The FBU, however, noted that while negotiations were continuing, the government imposed a third annual increase in firefighters’ pension contributions, taking them to 14.2% for most firefighters, one of the highest in the public or private sector, and issued proposals for a fourth year increase for many. 

Wrack added: “Nevertheless, we remain totally committed to resolving the dispute through negotiation, and are ready to meet to consider a workable proposal as soon as possible.” 

In addition to the early May strike action, the union has also imposed a ban on voluntary overtime across England and Wales from 3pm on Sunday 4 May until noon on Friday 9 May. And in Scotland there will be a ban on voluntary overtime between noon on Friday 2 May and noon on Friday 9 May. 

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