When I was a little girl, I would sit near the front door after breakfast, waiting for my Dad to come home. A key in the lock, and I would run to hug a man who reeked of smoke and petrol and boot polish, a man who sometimes came home quiet and shaken, and didn’t often talk about his working days and nights.
I overheard glimpses of conversation; tiny babies carried lifeless down ladders, a mum found dead in bed with her children cuddled in close and an ashtray on the bedroom floor. A man trapped in a burning caravan, his charred corpse found huddled and clawing at the door. The burning buildings loomed large in fitful nightmares, and to me, my dad was a hero. As were his watch, a loud group of muscular men who we would visit on weekends.
Firefighters have walked out on strike for the weekend in their bitter row with the government over pensions. Members of the Fire Brigades Unionin England left their stations at 6pm on Friday and will not return until 6pm on Tuesday, the evening before Bonfire night.
Picket lines were mounted outside fire stations, and will continue throughout the next few days.
Fire brigades again launched contingency plans, including hiring contract staff to cover for striking firefighters, but the public were warned to be extra vigilant, especially if attending firework events.
The West Yorkshire brigade warned that the service and the public would be left in a vulnerable position, telling people to take extra care to ensure their own safety, while the London brigade said it might not attend rubbish or small grass fires or help anyone shut in a lift during the strike.
The FBU hit back at government statements that firefighters would continue to receive one of the best pension packages of any worker, even after changes to their pension scheme.
The union’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “How can it be remotely fair that the prime minister, already a millionaire, enjoys a far greater subsidy from his employer in absolute and proportional terms than a firefighter who is earning less than £30,000 a year? It is sickening hypocrisy.”
Firefighters call more strikes after government refuses compromise on pensions attacks.
Firefighters in England, Scotland and Wales will take part in further industrial action over pensions, the Fire Brigades Union has announced.
English and Welsh firefighters will strike on:
– Friday 2 May, between noon and 5pm
– Saturday 3 May, between 2pm and 2am
– Sunday 4 May, between 10am and 3pm.
There will also be a ban on voluntary overtime across England and Wales from 3pm on Sunday 4 May until noon on Friday 9 May.
In Scotland there will be a ban on voluntary overtime between noon on Friday 2 May and noon on Friday 9 May.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “After three years of negotiations and an intense four months presenting an indisputable, evidence-based case for the need to ensure a pension scheme that takes into account the unique occupation of firefighting, the government is still burying its head in the sand.
“Several members of government were only too keen to praise firefighters during the winter floods, but their words amount to nothing when they simultaneously ignore issues that threaten the future of firefighters and their families.
“Nevertheless, we remain totally committed to resolving the dispute through negotiation, and are ready to meet to consider a workable proposal as soon as possible.”
Negotiations between the FBU and the Department for Communities and Local Government — as well as the devolved governments — have been taking place for three years, and since the last strike on 3 January 2014, both the union and government have undertaken work examining financial, technical and legal issues.
Following the last meeting of the union’s executive council on 9 and 10 April, the union wrote to the minister saying that if they hadn’t received any proposals by 24 April, they would conclude that the government was unwilling or unable to offer any improvement.
In a letter dated 23 April, the Westminster fire minister, Brandon Lewis, commended the way in which the union had engaged with government on several fronts, but did not present any new proposals.
As a result, at a meeting on Thursday 24 April the union’s executive council unanimously decided to take further industrial action.
At a recent meeting Treasury officials confirmed that that there is no central government obstacle to new proposals from the DCLG.
Over recent weeks the FBU has met with ACAS, the organisation devoted to preventing and resolving employment disputes, where union officials outlined their concerns and frustration with the lack of any progress.
Although during negotiations the Westminster fire minister assured firefighters that he would seek to address the threat of firefighters being sacked merely for getting older, there has been no change in the government’s position.
While negotiations were continuing, the government imposed a third annual increase in firefighters’ pension contributions, taking them to 14.2% for most firefighters, one of the highest in the public or private sector, and issued proposals for a fourth year increase for many.
In August last year, firefighters voted by 78% for strike action.
FBU members stage fresh action in long-running pensions dispute
Firefighters in England and Wales staged fresh strikes yesterday in their long-running dispute with the government over pensions.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) walked out at 6.30am – the ninth stoppage since September.
Under the terms of an agreement between the FBU, central government and fire services, strikers return to work if there is a major emergency which might lead to large numbers of people being put at serious risk.
Firefighters in Kent and Surrey worked during a strike on Christmas Eve because of storm-related floods and damage.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The return of Kent and Surrey firefighters to work on Christmas Eve makes a mockery of claims made by a tiny minority of commentators that striking firefighters are ‘irresponsible.’ “Firefighters do not want to place the public at risk and support on the picket lines suggests that the public understands that we cannot stand by and let this pension theft continue.”
The union said most firefighters who take home around £1,650 a month already pay £320 or more into their pensions and from April 2014 this will rise for the third year in a row to more than £340, with many facing a fourth consecutive rise of 2.2 per cent in 2015.
FBU added that evidence suggests that at least two-thirds of the current workforce could face either dismissal 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.
The government has criticised the industrial action. Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said: “A firefighter who earns £29,000 and retires after a full career aged 60, will get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. “An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.” But Mr Wrack claimed the government was being disingenuous with its figures. He said: “What firefighters really want to hear is that genuine dialogue and negotiation has begun. Until that happens our campaign will continue.”