UK

Firefighters to strike for four days over pensions row

Striking firefighters Image copyright PA
Image caption The row over pensions has led to firefighters being in dispute with the government for the past 18 months

Firefighters in England will strike for four days from 31 October in a row over pensions, the Fire Brigades Union says.

Its members in England will walk out from 18:00 GMT, with the strike ending on the evening before Guy Fawkes Night.

The FBU has accused the government of refusing to put forward any new offer despite two months of talks.

Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt said the strike action was "completely unnecessary" and damaged the fire and rescue service's "good reputation".

FBU members also went on strike in England and Wales in August in a protracted dispute over plans to make firefighters work until they are 60.

That was the first national walkout for a decade and was described by the FBU as a "warning shot" for the government.

Union officials say that under the government's proposals, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.

'Stupidity'

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "Firefighters are incandescent following two months of negotiations which have led to no new proposals.

"Firefighters will not stand by and see our members' pension rights destroyed by a government which does not give a damn about the safety or wellbeing of firefighters or the long term.

"The public do not want 60-year-olds tackling fires. Everyone understands the stupidity of these plans - except government ministers.

"We remain committed to resolving this dispute in the interests of our members and the public at large."

According to the FBU, Northern Ireland has offered firefighters a scheme with a normal pension age of 55 and Scotland has offered more protection and a guarantee not to sack firefighters for losing fitness as they get older.

Wales is proposing an improved flexible retirement option.

The industrial action over the past 18 months has seen fire authorities spend millions hiring contractors to cover for striking FBU members.

There have been 46 separate periods of strike action in that time. The FBU said it expected about 36,000 firefighters to take part in the coming walkout.

'Generous' pensions

Fiona Twycross, Labour's fire spokeswoman on the London Assembly, said: "Despite the Fire Brigades Union calling off strikes and negotiating in good faith, the government is clearly not willing to listen and has not made a new offer to firefighters even though they clearly indicated this would happen.

"It is clear that the FBU feel the government's stance means the only way they can have their case heard is to press it through strike action. It is deeply disappointing that we have got to this position and I urge all sides to get back to the negotiating table.

"The proposal at the heart of this dispute, that firefighters should work until they are 60 or see their pension cut, is a heartless assault on those who spend their lives running into harm's way to protect the public."

Ms Mordaunt said: "The government has worked hard to give firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector in recognition of the risks they take.

"Yet the Fire Brigades Union keeps letting its members and the public down by calling strikes at a time when they will cause maximum disruption.

The fire minister said that under the proposed new scheme, nearly three-quarters of firefighters would see no change in their pension age in 2015 and a firefighter who earned £29,000 would retire after a full career aged 60 with a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension.

A private pension pot paying an equivalent sum would have to hold more than £500,000 and would have required its holder to contribute twice as much as firefighters, she added.

"Public safety will remain our primary focus and we have tried and tested contingency plans in place," Ms Mordaunt said.

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