Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Chippenham constituency, Andy Newman, has called for the government to seek urgent talks to seek to avert planned strike action by the FBU, firefighters union. Firefighters are intending to strike over pensions on Wednesday 25 September. The strike will take place for four hours, between noon and 4pm.
A strike ballot earlier this month showed almost 80% support for the strike. The union warns that it is neither safe nor practical to expect firefighters to fight fires and rescue families in their late-50s: the lives of the general public and firefighters themselves will be endangered.
Mr Newman claims that the government’s own figures show that thousands of firefighters could face the sack without access to a proper pension simply because extending the retirement age would mean they could no longer meet the physical demands of the job. A recent review found that over half of firefighters between the ages of 50 and 54 would no longer able to meet fire and rescue service fitness standards for fighting fires. Beyond the age of 55, two thirds fail to meet the standards. And although the government has previously claimed that older firefighters could be moved to less physically demanding roles, FBU research found only a handful of ‘redeployment’ opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning mass sackings would be inevitable.
Firefighters already pay some of the highest pension contributions in the UK public or private sector and have seen increases for two consecutive years. The majority of firefighters already pay almost 13% of their salary in contributions with further increases due next year. This will mean some firefighters now face an increase six years in a row.
Firefighters also argue that the government’s financial projections are flawed. They are based on a prediction of a 1% decline in pension sign-up, but their own information suggests that over 25% of whole-time firefighters recruited last year chose not to join. The FBU has warned these figures clearly demonstrate that changes to the scheme are already having an impact and, if the trend continues, that the financial viability of the scheme will be seriously undermined.
Mr Newman says: “No one wants to see a strike in an emergency service, but clearly trust and confidence has broken down, and it is vital that the government acts swiftly to address the flaws in the changes they are proposing”