They’re at it again: Longest firefighters strike yet scheduled as two more walk-outs announced

Firefighters strike outside Hemel Hempstead's Queensway station. November 13, 2013
Firefighters strike outside Hemel Hempstead's Queensway station. November 13, 2013

Firefighters in England and Wales will strike again over attacks on their pensions after the government confirmed it would implement a new scheme without further negotiations.

A 24-hour strike — the longest yet in the three-year campaign — will take place from 9am next Thursday, with another set for 10am to 5pm on Saturday, June 21.

In addition between the two strikes firefighters will not carry out any voluntary overtime — which is routinely needed by many fire and rescue services to maintain fire cover — or conduct training of strikebreakers between the beginning of the first strike and 9am on Sunday, June 22.

The two strikes will be the 13th and 14th over pensions. The first was on Thursday, September 24, 2013.

General secretary of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack said: “The minister has decided to bury his head in the sand, but he must accept that firefighters simply will not give up fighting for their futures — and our fire and rescue service.

“Concerns over these unworkable proposals remain as valid and grave as ever, and the government has ignored all the evidence including it’s own reports.

“It is as ever a difficult decision for us to take, but the only way for us to resolve this unnecessary and costly dispute is for the government to start listening to reason.”

The decision to strike was made yesterday at a meeting of the FBU’s executive council.

On Tuesday FBU officials had met the fire minister, Brandon Lewis, in the hope that discussion could continue, although their appeal fell on deaf ears.

On Monday, May 23, the minister opened a ‘consultation’ on their proposals, signalling an end to discussions with firefighters over the scheme.

However, the Department for Communities and Local Government is still refusing to publish alternative, fully-costed proposals that they have admitted to being in possession of since Wednesday, March 19.

As a result, the FBU argues that the firefighters, the public and other parties — including ministers in the Welsh and Scottish governments — are being kept in the dark, the consultation being rendered meaningless.

Before 2010, firefighters already contributed one of the highest proportions of their salary towards their pensions (11 per cent), and in April this increased for the third year running.

Firefighters typically now pay more than £4,000 a year from a £29,000 salary, and the government has announced they will impose another increase in 2015.

The FBU says increasing numbers of members are considering leaving the pension scheme as a result of its decreasing affordability — posing difficult questions over its sustainability.

Under the government’s proposals, firefighters who are forced to retire before the age of 60 as a result of ageing will have half of their pension taken away.

The government’s own report, published in December 2013 by Dr Tony Williams, found that large numbers of firefighters would be unable to maintain operational fitness until 60.