Fire strikes: minister’s pension “colossal” compared to firefighters’ says FBU

The Westminster fire minister’s pension is “colossal” compared to firefighters’ and any claims that the governments proposed changes to their pensions are “generous” must stop, the Fire Brigades Union has said.

Firefighters in England and Wales began eight consecutive days of strike action this week in their campaign to defend their pensions from attacks they say are unfair, unworkable and unaffordable as government failed to respond to an invite to meet the union over the weekend.

Matt Wrack general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: “Despite arguing the government cannot afford to improve their offer, the minister seems more than happy to receive a pension that is far better than firefighters.

“To say a pension scheme that would see firefighters losing huge amounts of their pension merely for losing fitness towards the age of 60 is “generous” is ludicrous.

“After three years of failure to answer our arguments, the government must now admit the damage their attacks would do to our members’ lives — and the fire and rescue service itself — and work with us to find a negotiated solution.”

The FBU wrote to the minister, Brandon Lewis, on Friday offering to attend talks with no preconditions over the weekend, and contacted civil servants again on Monday morning, but as yet had not been offered a meeting.

The union says figures demonstrate clearly that Brandon Lewis’ pension is far more generous than that of firefighters:

–       He contributes a smaller percentage of his salary: 9.1% compared to firefighters’ 13.2%

–       The government contributes a far higher rate towards his pension: 15.4% of his salary compared to 13.8% of firefighters’ salary

–       He pays a far smaller share of total cost: 37% compared to the 49% paid by firefighters.

A recent academic report on firefighter fitness by the University of Bath undermined the government’s proposals by arguing that higher fitness levels are required for firefighting than those used by the government to defend the idea of working until 60, which the union says the report implies are unsafe.

The FBU says that the Westminster government’s position is not supported  by evidence.

During negotiations with the FBU, the government in Westminster recently 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.

This means that a firefighter with a salary of less than £29,000 now pays around £4,000 a year for a pension that is being devalued and attacked — and the government has now issued proposals for a fourth-year increase for many firefighters.

The FBU also recently started the process of legally challenging the government’s proposals, saying they have received advice that the current proposals for reducing firefighters pensions is unlawful, irrational and amounts to age discrimination.

The government in N Ireland has offered firefighters a scheme with a retirement age of 55. The FBU says that the fact that the proposals fall within the Treasury’s cost restrictions demonstrates that a more workable scheme can be achieved through “real negotiations”.

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