Firefighters join pensions battle

by Daphne Liddle

THE FIRE Brigades Union last week joined other major public sector unions who are preparing for another one-day strike on 28th March.

The unions so far committed to action in March are the civil service union PCS, the National Union of Teachers and the lecturers’ union UCU.

The giant union Unite is balloting its public sector members for further action. Unite said the prospect of strike action over the NHS pensions’ issue is a real possibility, possibly on 28th March. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “There have been no substantive changes from what was on the table before Christmas — our hard working members will still be expected to pay more, work longer and get less when they retire.”

The FBU has come into the battle with preparations for a swift strike ballot for 28th March. The union says the pensions proposals are unacceptable because they include:

Contribution rates are set to rise by 2014 from 11 per cent to between 14.2 per cent for firefighters and up to 16 per cent for fire service officers. They face extra payments of between £2,000 and £7,200 over the next three years alone.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “These are unfair and unaffordable contribution hikes. We’re facing five years of a pay freeze and a pay squeeze at a time of serious inflation.

“There is a real danger these huge hikes will trigger an exodus from the scheme. That means a drop in the money coming and less to pay for pensions going out.

“The entire scheme could rapidly become unstable leaving the taxpayer to fill the gap. Instead of savings the taxpayer will be paying more money.

“A pension age of 60 for firefighters is unrealistic and that is obvious to all of us. Everyone in the fire service is saying that 60-year-olds can’t work as frontline fire crews.

“We never rush into a ballot for national strike action and have constructively engaged in all talks. We need Government to start addressing the evidence we have presented them which supports all we are saying.”

UCU had been planning rolling strikes in February followed by a one-day strike on 1st March. It has dropped this now to coordinate with other unions in the one-day strike on 28th March and is balloting accordingly.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “The Government’s proposals still come up short, even after repeated attempts by the education unions over months of hard negotiation to win protection for pensions.”

PCS has played a leading role in planning for the March strike. Its general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We refuse to accept that civil servants, nurses, teachers and council workers should be bullied into paying more and working longer for less, just to pay off debts racked up by greedy bankers who are still pocketing their bonuses.”

PCS has also proposed a rolling programme of industrial action after 28th March.

So far the unions preparing for a strike on 28th March speak for over 700,000 workers. That is a very large number but not as many as the two million who took part in the 30th November national stoppage but there is plenty of time for that number to grow.

When they see the plans taking shape the members of the unions not yet committed are likely to pressure their own leaders into joining to give the Government another clear message it cannot ignore.