Striking firefighters in Bristol in October 2013
Firefighters in England and Wales will this evening strike between for the seventh time in their long-running dispute with the government over pensions.
They will take action between 6 pm and midnight today, as well as between 6.30pm on December 31st and 12.30am on January 1st.
FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “Firefighters on duty over the festive period don’t have much to celebrate this year and tonight’s strikes will remind the government of the service we provide 24 hour a day, 365 days a year, every year of our careers.
“Nobody wants these strikes but firefighters remain extremely angry over the prospect of being priced out of their pensions and facing the sack owing to the government’s ludicrous pretence that men and women of 60 can meet the same fitness standards as 20 year olds.
“The government at Westminster has acknowledged our concerns but not done anything to seriously address them, so we welcome the chance to meet the government and hope this afternoon’s meeting provides a genuine dialogue.”
The union says most firefighters who take home approximately £1,650 a month already pay £320 or more a month into their pensions, and from April 2014 this would rise for the third year in a row to over £340 a month (£4,000 a year), with many facing a fourth consecutive rise of 2.2% in 2015.
At the same time evidence suggests that at least two thirds of the current workforce will face either dismissal from the fire service or a reduction in their pensions of almost half because they are unable to maintain the fitness standards required by the fire service beyond the age of 55.
As a result of a meeting between the Fire Minister and FBU officials on 18 October, firefighters suspended the next day’s strike, although industrial action resumed after the minister’s “promising words failed to turn into concrete assurances.”
The current threat of storms and floods has once again highlight the valuable and wide-ranging job firefighters do.
The union has already reached agreement with the government and with fire services across England and Wales on the recall to duty of striking firefighters in the event of major emergency incidents which might lead to large numbers of people being put at serious risk.
Firefighters have the fundamental lawful right to strike and so the criteria for such a recall is very strict, with the union warning that the mechanism should not be abused.
These agreements mean that in certain circumstances striking firefighters would immediately return to work on a voluntary basis.
Such agreements are in place in all parts of England and Wales apart from Essex, where the Chief Fire Officer has stated that he does not want any such agreement and so does not want striking firefighters to return to work even in the event of a major emergency threatening major loss of life.
Matt Wrack said, “It seems bizarre that the Essex Chief Fire Officer is the only one to snub such an agreement especially as the government has placed such importance on them being in place for public safety.”
Further strikes are scheduled between 6.30pm on Tuesday 31 December and 12.30am on Wednesday 1 January and 6.30am and 8.30am on Friday 3 January.
“We’re prepared for a long struggle” – FBU general secretary Matt Wrack tells UnionNews why his members are on strike