More fire strikes inevitable

FIREFIGHTERS throughout England and Wales staged strikes over last weekend in a battle to defend their current pensions provisions, which allow them to retire at 55.

Firefighting is a very strenuous job and requires a level of fitness of fitness that is difficult for anyone to achieve after their mid-50s. But the job itself also takes a heavy toll, working in very hot, smoky conditions firefighters sustain long-term damage to their lungs and are often injured.

They are required to take regular fitness tests and may lose their jobs — and their pensions — if they fail. Raising the pension age to 60 — as the local fire authorities are trying to do — will mean most firefighters will fail those fitness tests before reaching retirement and so lose their jobs and their pensions.

Furthermore they will be expected to pay higher contributions to these pensions they may never get and they would be paid at a lower rate.

It is hardly surprising that this has become a very bitter dispute and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is warning that more strikes are inevitable.

Last weekend the FBU staged a five-hour stoppage from 10am to 3pm on Sunday following five-hour and 12-hour strikes on Friday and Saturday.

In Merseyside 700 firefighters maintained picket lines at fire stations across the region. The Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service said there were no serious incidents during the strikes and 999 calls were answered as normal.

FBU regional secretary Les Skarratts said: “We had 100 per cent solid support for the strikes, not just in Merseyside but across the North West.

“The amount of public support was astonishing and it was quite emotional.

“Children were giving us their £1 pocket money for strike funds and people have been dropping off pies and soft drinks. We can’t thank the public enough.

“We are very grateful that there have been no major incidents. We hope the Government will realise how determined we are and will finally start to think about what we are saying.”

He said the strike action could have been avoided if the Government had listened to the concerns of firefighters.

He said: “Our national negotiators are meeting this week and we will consider whether the Government is going to provide a proposal.

“We will look at that, and if they don’t, I think more action is inevitable.”

Fire chiefs in Merseyside are currently planning to close six stations in Wirral, St Helens and Knowsley, with three new ones due to be built to replace them.

This will lead to up to 100 firefighter job cuts as well as the loss of between 40 and 50 back office staff.

Merseyside fire service currently has 760 firefighters, down from 1,500 a decade ago, and 28 fire engines, cut from 42 since last September.

The service has been ordered by Government to slash £6.5m from its books by 2016.

In Essex firefighters from across the county held a demonstration in Chelmsford town centre on Saturday against the Government’s attacks on their pensions and cuts to the fire and rescue service.

Supporters from the Chelmsford branch as well as Southern and Eastern Region of the TUC also attended.

Riccardo la Torre, chair of the FBU in Essex, said: “The Government must listen to reason and accept that all the evidence demonstrates that their proposals for firefighter pensions are unfair, unworkable and unaffordable — and that cuts to the service are putting lives at risk.

“None of us want to be on strike but we can’t just watch our service being decimated — and our pensions destroyed.

“We know that the communities of Essex are behind us as we try to make sure that public safety is put first, and that firefighters don’t lose half their pension just because they can’t stay fit enough to pull people out of burning buildings when they’re 60.”

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Yet again firefighters have shown the strength of their anger over government attacks on their pensions and have been united in standing up for a fair, workable and affordable deal.

“It’s very disappointing that we’ve been forced to hold another three days of strikes but nothing with deflect firefighters resolve when the future of their families — and the fire and rescue service itself — is at stake.”