Fire Fighter Strikes: Are More on the Cards?
Firefighters went on strike in a row over pensions in September 2013 and it seems that more strikes are definitely on the cards, both in England and Wales. The reason for why they staged the first national stoppage in over 10 years was governmental plans to make them work until they are 60.
New Regulations Will Put People’s Lives at Risk
Firefighters are paid to keep everyone safe and to many it may seem odd that they should go on strike. The firefighters’ strike attracted plenty of criticism, but this has not stopped them from protesting.
The changes outlined by the government mean that firefighters would have to work at least until they are 60 in order to be able to draw on their retirement pot. This means that they will have to contribute more towards their retirement. Firefighters consider that this plan can put many lives in danger, as many will not meet the fitness levels required for the job.
Around 1,200 firefighters around the country joined the industrial action in September. Most of them motivated their decision of joining the strike by saying their job is one with high responsibilities and under the new regulations they would have to face the uncertainty of being sacked and even losing their pension when age truly becomes a problem.
Genuinely No Other Option
Some of the firefighters who joined this industrial action agreed to speak to the press about their requests. Lee Wilson, a 28-year old firefighter who has been working with the West Midlands Fire Service for more than five years, declared for the Express and Star: “I don’t want to strike. But if you ask any firefighter we genuinely see no other option. The taxpaying public has been giving their opinions. I can understand why they may be angry and I thought they deserved answers”.
As the strike went ahead, a war of words raged between the Fire Brigade’s Union and the Government. Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, argues that the pensions package was “one of the most generous schemes in the public sector”. He also pointed out that “The firefighter pension age of 60 was introduced in 2006 and is in line with the police and armed forces”. He added that “firefighters earning £29,000 and retiring at 60 after a full career would receive a £19,000-a-year payout, rising to £26,000 with the state pension”.
On the other hand, Labour leader Ed Miliband considered that the only way to solve the problem was for the Union and the Government to get around the table.
“What I say about any industrial dispute is that it’s a sign of failure. Both sides should be getting around the table because we need an effective fire service that is actually going to serve people. What Government should be doing is not ramping up the rhetoric but getting round the table with the firefighters to try and prevent this happening and sort it out”.
A New Strike Being Planned for the 19 October 2013
- According to BBC News, firefighters prepare for a second strike on 19 October. This will only be a 5-hour strike and according to Union members, it will take place starting from 18:30.
- Firefighters in Scotland contemplated going on strike, but they eventually decided against it, considering that the Scottish government proposals were satisfactory enough to prevent such action.
- It is expected for the October strike to follow the pattern of the last one in September, where contingency plans used volunteer and part-time firefighters for the period of the four-hour strike.
The general secretary of the Union, Matt Wrack, declared for Sky News:
“We had hoped our first strike was enough to show the Government that firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions. No firefighter wants to strike, and it’s desperately disappointing that governments in Westminster and Cardiff continue to deny reality over pensions’ costs and the need for a pension scheme that reflects the job firefighters do”.
He added that more strikes could not be ruled out for the near future. He also mentioned
“If governments in Westminster and Cardiff are willing to discuss these matters seriously, we would be happy to meet tomorrow or any day early next week and can provide a venue if required”.
As it can be seen from above, more firefighters’ strikes are on the cards in England and Wales. Scotland has chosen not to take part in the strikes at the moment, but this may certainly change in the near future.
All depends on the deal the Union will be able to secure with the Government in the next few weeks.