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Firefighter strikes over pension begin

Firefighters across England and Wales have staged a five-hour walk out today as part of industrial action over pensions with further strikes planned over the bank holiday weekend. 

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says the strike could have been avoided, but fire minister Brandon Lewis MP has sat on alternative pension proposals since 19 March but failed to provide them to the FBU. 

However, a DCLG spokesperson told PSE: “These allegations are untrue. The proposals were shared with the FBU on 19 March and it is wilfully misleading for [FBU general secretary] Matt Wrack to say otherwise. 

“The FBU are fully aware that the proposals required further discussion and consideration, which the government was committed to before the FBU walked away from discussions by calling industrial action.” 

Firefighters have several concerns over the government’s pension proposals: 

  • The amount firefighters would be expected to pay in employee contributions;
  • The pensions of existing firefighters are not sufficiently protected;
  • Firefighters potentially face the risk of being sacked because their fitness declines as they get older; and
  • Anyone who wants to or must retire after 55 faces losing almost 50% of their pension. 

Negotiations between the FBU and the DCLG – 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 examined the financial, technical and legal issues. 

However, while  negotiations have continued, the government has imposed a third year of employee contribution increases, meaning most firefighters must now pay at least 14.2% of their salary in pension contributions, or over £4,000 a year from a salary of less than £29,000. 

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Firefighters simply want a workable pension scheme and an end to this dispute.” 

Referring to a letter sent to fire authority chairs this week from the fire minister, Wrack added: “These strikes have only resumed because of a complete absence of proposals from government. Rather than speculate on the motivations for their behaviour, now that we know costed proposals exist, we call on the minister to send us proposals without any further delay.” 

However, until both parties are brought back to the discussion table, the latest industrial action involves:

  • A strike on Friday between 12pm and 5pm
  • A strike on Saturday between 2pm and 2am
  • A strike on Sunday between 10am 3pm
  • A ban on voluntary overtime from 3pm on Sunday until 12pm on Friday 9 May 

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