2014 has been a year of protest, demonstration and struggle for firefighters. As we enter a new year I would like to pay tribute to all those members who have been solidly campaigning throughout the year for a fair pension settlement or against cuts to our service.
Politicians will know by know how passionate and knowledgeable we are about this cause having taken another 24 hour period of strike action on 9 December. Our message is clear; we are not going away.
Firefighters have been busy lobbying politicians as we were able to secure a parliamentary debate on the 2015 firefighters’ pension scheme – a rarity as individual pension schemes are rarely, if ever, discussed and voted on by the House of Commons.
The vote would call for the regulations for the 2015 scheme, laid before parliament, be annulled and the government to come back to the negotiating table to find a fairer deal for firefighters.
I know how hard everyone has worked to secure the debate. Talking to the security guards in the parliamentary lobby they told me that they had seen firefighters there every day for the past month lobbying MPs.
During the debate speaker after speaker from the opposition benches demolished the governments’ arguments over firefighter fitness, redeployment and the solutions being found in Scotland and Wales as well as the Northern Ireland industrial dispute being lifted. Indeed, nobody on the government side, apart from the minister, even attempted to put a case for the pension changes.
There is no question – we won the debate. However the government whipped its MPs and won the vote 313 to 261.
Members can still be proud of what we achieved.
This does not mean the campaign is over by any means. This is a campaign being fought politically, legally and industrially. The Executive Council is putting in place the next steps of our campaign and this will address every aspect of our campaigning arsenal. This debate and vote was just one of many fronts we are fighting on
Firefighters demonstrated their solidarity and determination again when they travelled in large numbers to support victimised firefighter and executive council member Ricky Matthews who was sacked for taking lawful strike action by Buckinghamshire Fire Authority.
We marched through Aylesbury stopping outside the local fire authority headquarters and town hall calling for Ricky to be reinstated.
I know that Ricky was very touched by the number of members who came out to support him. If you haven’t done so already, please sign the petition to support Ricky here.
2015 will be a crucial year for the future of the UK fire and rescue service as the general election comes our way in May. We will need to look at how to hold to account and challenge those politicians who have unleashed an unprecedented attack on firefighters and other workers.
Since 2010, we have lost over 5000 firefighter jobs, 39 fire stations have closed and 999 emergency response times have increased.
Our service needs investment, not cuts.