Socialist Worker

Matt Wrack: ‘Firefighters are ready for a struggle over pensions’

General secretary of the FBU firefighters’ union Matt Wrack spoke to Socialist Worker, about their ballot for strikes over pensions

Issue No. 1985

The government is proposing legalised robbery of the pensions of firefighters and emergency control room staff.

It may be legal, but it is certainly a betrayal of the conditions which these workers believed they had signed up to.

At present firefighters can retire at 50 if they have a minimum of 25 years service. A full pension is not available until 30 years service and most members work at least until then.

Ladder

After 2013 the present workforce will have to work until they are at least 55 before they can retire, and future recruits from April this years will have to go on until they are 60 if they want a full pension.

This is a crushing attack on the conditions of 40,000 full time firefighters, but it is also a matter for everyone in Britain.

Do you want a 60 year old climbing a ladder to rescue you or your child from a fire? Do you want a 60 year old crawling through a tunnel to rescue you from a shattered train, or to cut you from your car in a motorway accident?

Politicians rushed to praise us after the July bombings in London. And at the same time they were plotting to wreck the future of tens of thousands of firefighters and their families.

Retirement at 50 is a recognition that this is an emergency service with hard physical demands.

Deficit

The government claims the nature of firefighting will change because more people have smoke alarms and there is more prevention work. Of course we support all such measures, but there will still be fires.

Nobody predicted the explosion and fire at the fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead before Christmas. But it happened.

The firefighters’ pension scheme is not some handout. Firefighters pay 11 percent of their wages into the fund, far more than most workers. If there is a deficit, it is one of the costs of firefighting, refusing to fund it is like withholding wages.

And the 1,500 control staff who are presently in the local government pension scheme are facing the same onslaught as the rest of local government on the “rule of 85” which presently says you can retire at 60 with an unreduced pension if you have 25 years service.

It is for all these reasons that at our FBU recall conference on 16 February the executive council will be asking members to immediately commence a ballot of all members for discontinuous strike action.

We do not expect to fight alone. We have been working with seven other unions that have made clear their opposition to the attacks on the local government pension scheme.

Together we will be a formidable force in a campaign that can unite all firefighters with workers in other unions.

This is a battle for dignity that is important for every working person. It links to all the other attacks on public sector workers’ pensions and to the Turner report’s call for retirement at 68 for everyone in the future.

We hope that all those who have supported us in the past will back us now. We do not relish the fight, but if it is necessary to win justice then we will not back away from it.


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