July 23 2014 Latest news:
Anna Silverman, Reporter
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Firefighters will go on a 24-hour strike today after pension schemes were labelled “unworkable” by union chiefs.
The planned stoppage will take place from 9am today, and is set to be the longest in a series of strikes over pension reforms and a later retirement age.
It will be followed by a second bout of industrial action on Saturday, June 21, from 10am to 5pm.
The decision for firefighters in England and Wales to strike was made by the Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) executive council on Wednesday after a meeting with fire minister Brandon Lewis earlier in the week ended without progress.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, accused the minister 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 it’s own reports.
“It is as ever a difficult decision for us to take, but the only way for us to resolve this unnecessary and costly dispute is for the government to start listening to reason.”
The FBU claimed the government was refusing to publish alternative proposals on pensions which it believed would help resolve the dispute.
It said its members typically pay more than £4,000 a year into a pension pot from a salary of £29,000, with many firefighters considering leaving the scheme as payments look set to rise.
The government is also proposing to raise the retirement age of a firefighter to 60 with those forced to retire beforehand due to waning physical fitness facing losing half of their pension payment, said Mr Wrack.
He added a report by the government by Dr Tony Williams, published in December 2013, found that large numbers of firefighters would be “unable to maintain operational fitness” until 60.
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 sixty, 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.”