Firefighters to walk out again

Andover Advertiser: A banner outside a fire station during last month's strike A banner outside a fire station during last month's strike

Firefighters are to stage two fresh strikes in their long-running dispute with the Government over pensions.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in England and Wales will walk out for 24 hours on June 12 and again for seven hours on June 21.

The 24-hour stoppage - which coincides with the start of the soccer World Cup - is the longest to be held in the union's three-year campaign, which has already seen 12 separate strikes.

The union is protesting at changes to firefighters' pensions and a later retirement age.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack accused fire minister Brandon Lewis of "burying his head in the sand", adding: "He must accept that firefighters simply will not give up fighting for their futures, and our fire and rescue service.

"Concerns over these unworkable proposals remain as valid and grave as ever, and the Government has ignored all the evidence, including its own reports.

"Our most recent discussions with Government suggest they simply do not have a clue about the work firefighters actually do or the standards firefighters are required to meet.

"It is a difficult decision for us to take strike action, but the only way for us to resolve this unnecessary and costly dispute is for the Government to start listening to reason."

FBU officials met the minister earlier this week but no progress was made. The union claimed the Government was refusing to publish alternative proposals on pensions which the FBU believes would help resolve the row.

Ministers in the Welsh and Scottish governments were being "kept in the dark", meaning that any consultation was "meaningless", said the FBU.

"Before 2010, firefighters already contributed one of the highest proportions of their salary towards their pensions (11%), and in April this increased for the third year running.

"Firefighters typically now pay over £4,000 a year from a £29,000 salary, and the Government has announced they will impose further increases in 2015," said the union.

The FBU said increasing numbers of its members were considering leaving the pension scheme as a result of its decreasing affordability, posing difficult questions over its sustainability.

Under the Government's proposals, firefighters who are forced to retire before the age of 60 as a result of ageing will have half of their pension taken away, according to the FBU.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "By disrupting constructive discussions and an open consultation with further strike action the FBU has once again shown the country it is not serious about finding a resolution.

"The Government has made clear that a way forward can be reached, but not under the shadow of industrial action, which only serves to damage firefighters' standing with the public.

"The 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.

"Nearly three quarters will see no change in their pension age in 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.

"Public safety remains our prime concern and robust contingency plans are in place to keep people protected."

Fiona Twycross, Labour's fire spokewoman on the London Assembly, said: "T he Government are trying to force firefighters to work until they are 60. Currently they can retire on ill-health grounds before 60 and retain their pension.

"Under the Government's plans, if a firefighter is deemed unfit before they turn 60 they will lose part of their pension. The Government is being cynical as it knows from their own review that two-thirds of firefighters will have to retire because of ill-health when they are 55.

"Firefighters have a physically demanding job and the public want them to be fit and healthy. By forcing them to work longer and then taking part of their pension off them if they can't physically cope when they are close to retirement is fundamentally unfair."

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