Firefighters will vote during the summer on strike action over an ‘unworkable’ pension scheme proposal that they say could lead to thousands facing the sack as they get older. The Fire Brigades Union decision to hold a strike vote after almost two years of negotiations was prompted when Westminster set a 12 July deadline for firefighters to accept proposals — or face imposition of the changes.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Expecting large numbers of 60 year olds to fight fires and rescue families is dangerous to the public and to firefighters. The government is simply ignoring the evidence about the physical demands of firefighting and has been unable to answer our concerns during two years of negotiations. None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety. We hope common sense prevails, and the government returns to the negotiating table.”
The government’s own figures have shown that thousands of firefighters could face the sack without access to a proper pension because they are getting older.
A recent government review found that half of firefighters between the ages of 50 and 54 are no longer able to meet fire and rescue service fitness standards for fighting fires. Beyond the age of 55, two thirds fail to meet the standards.
And although the government has claimed that older firefighters would be moved to less physically demanding roles, FBU research found only a handful of ‘redeployment’ opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning mass sackings would be inevitable.
Alongside the changes to retirement age, government is threatening significant reductions to firefighter pension benefits. Under current proposals, firefighters who retire or are forced out of work at age 55 will lose around 50% of their pensions.
Firefighters already pay some of the highest pension contributions in the UK public or private sector and have seen increases for two concurrent years. With further increases due next year, some firefighters now face an increase six years in a row.
Although the government’s financial projections are based on a prediction of a 1% decline in pension sign-up, their own information suggests that over 25% of whole-time firefighters recruited last year chose not to join. The FBU has warned these figures demonstrate that changes to the scheme are already having an impact and, if the trend continues, that the financial viability of the scheme will be seriously undermined.
The ballot will take place between 18 July and 29 August.