Socialist Worker

Firefighters’ strikes need to ‘escalate to win’ on pensions

by Annette Mackin
Issue No. 2383

Striking firefighters and supporters in October in north London

Striking firefighters and supporters in October in north London (Pic: Emma Davis)


The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has announced two further strikes in the row over pensions.

Workers in England and Wales were set to walk out on Friday and Saturday of this week. Both strikes begin at 6pm and end at 10pm. 

The walkouts will be the fifth and sixth times workers have struck this year.

The strikes were called after FBU general secretary Matt Wrack attended a round table discussion with the government on Wednesday of last week.

Firefighters are furious about a proposed rise in pension contributions that would see most workers paying £4,000 a year towards their pensions. That’s 

14.2 percent of their pay—one of the most expensive schemes.

“They’re trying to price firefighters out of a pension scheme,” Simon Hickman, FBU rep at Agecroft fire station in Greater Manchester, told Socialist Worker.

Tory fire minister Brandon Lewis has also withdrawn a pension offer he made in June. This was for pension contributions to be an average of 13.2 percent of firefighters’ wages.

Capability

Simon said, “The government is being intransigent. They don’t seem to be interested in anything the union has to say.”

The new scheme also expects firefighters to work until they are 60—up from 55. And the government wants to make it easier to sack workers under capability assessments if they fail to maintain the required 

standard of fitness.

In a provocative move Greater Manchester fire bosses have sacked a firefighter under capability assessments. Such sackings will become more common if the government push their proposals through.

Workers will be robbed of their contributions, which are deferred wages, if they fail to maintain fitness standards.

Demands 

Firefighters taking home £1,650 a month and paying £340 a month into the 

pension scheme face a retirement pension of £9,000 a year if they can’t work after age 55. Some will have been paying into their pension fund for 35 years.

Previously firefighters in Scotland weren’t included in any action because the union said it was making progress in negotiations with their employer.

But now firefighters in England, Wales and Scotland have voted by 86 percent to support further industrial action on top of strikes. Control staff will now also be involved in action.

But this can’t substitute for strikes. “We can only force the government into serious negotiations by escalating strikes,” said Simon.

“A lot of firefighters nationally, including in Scotland, are looking for action around Christmas and New Year to put the pressure on.

“We need more of these shorter strikes, or for a longer duration. Only strikes can win.”

 


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