The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 8th November 2013
THE FIRE Brigades Union staged another two two-hour strikes, one on Friday and one last Monday, as the Government withdrew some minor concessions it has made towards a settlement in the bitter dispute over pensions and retirement age.
The FBU had called off a previous strike on the understanding that the Fire Minister had indicated a willingness to negotiate on plans to raise the retirement age for firefighters from 55 to 60 and reduce pensions generally while raising contributions.
Fighting fires is a strenuous job that requires peak fitness but is performed in dangerous circumstances that take their toll on firefighters’ health.
Forcing them to remain on the front line until 60 will see many sacked in their late 50s for failing fitness tests — and thereby losing their pension rights.
As public support has grown for the firefighters in this dispute so the Government has been speaking “with forked tongues” and it was the President of the Chief Fire Officers, Paul Fuller, who admitted that in spite of promises from Brandon Lewis, the Fire Minister, they still planned to sack unfit firefighters in their late 50s.
This prompted the FBU to go ahead with the strikes on Friday and Monday.
Then Lewis has worsened offer on pensions and retirement age to firefighters ahead of the two-hour strike on Monday morning.
Lewis wrote to the Fire Brigades Union at 3.14 pm on Friday — three hours before a strike was due to take place — saying his last offer “was conditional on acceptance” and that it was being withdrawn.
Lewis’s move came shortly after the President of the Chief Fire Officers’ Association wrote to members contradicting Lewis’s claim that firefighters would not be sacked without access to a full pension as their fitness declines in their 50s.
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Friday’s strike was solid around the country, and there was a huge amount of public sympathy was on show on picket lines, online and via the media.
“By worsening the proposals for firefighters’ pensions, the Government has now put a further obstacle in the way of negotiations, but after two years of talks the Fire Brigades Union remains committed to a resolution.
“No firefighter wanted a strike, but we must defend the fire service, public safety and our pensions. The situation has now been exacerbated by ill-informed interventions by Chief Fire Officers which completely contradict Government claims that nobody will be sacked.
“In a bizarre twist Chief Officers are saying that firefighters will have a ‘choice’ of being sacked. Firefighters will wonder what planet these very highly-paid Chief Officers are living on.
“We can still get sorted this mess out if the Government recognises our concerns and takes account of the real evidence we have given them.”
Over the last week the Minister had been trying to convince the public that firefighters will not face the sack if they are unable to maintain operational fitness until age 60, and that ‘good employers’ will redeploy firefighters in this position.
But Fuller’s letter states that fire authorities would start capability dismissal procedures for firefighters in this position, and that they would therefore have to choose between being sacked or leaving with a hugely reduced pension.
The FBU has also pointed out that it is Chief Fire Officers who get the best benefits from the firefighters’ pension scheme, with several having already retired once in order to receive these benefits but now back in their old jobs on substantial salaries.
While the issue remains unresolved, firefighters are facing more increases in their pension contributions, another key area of their dispute with the Government. Firefighters are facing their third year of increases, with many — including new firefighters — being priced out of their schemes.