The government and fire service employers in England and Wales are in court defending a pension scheme which the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says is a "textbook" example of age discrimination against younger firefighters.
The introduction of the 2015 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme saw thousands of younger firefighters compulsorily transferred into a scheme where they have to work until 60, pay more and work for longer only to receive a pension that is greatly reduced in value.
The FBU argues that firefighters younger than age 45 on 1 April 2012 were unfairly penalised as they were forced into a worse scheme whereas older firefighters were allowed to remain in their original scheme.
Now five test cases are being heard in court on behalf of the thousands of firefighters affected.
As well as age discrimination, the union has produced evidence of racial and gender discrimination in the scheme. A disproportionate number of women and ethnic minority firefighters were affected by the changes as they make up a bigger proportion of workforce aged 45 or under.
Despite fierce opposition from the FBU, involving over 50 periods of strike action between 2013 – 2015, the government imposed the new scheme that the FBU says is unworkable.
The union argues that the new pension arrangements raise safety concerns as it means firefighters aged 60 have to undertake physically demanding operation tasks. At the same time, all the backroom jobs have disappeared as part of budget-driven staff reduction.
The FBU has provided large amounts of evidence from occupational fitness experts that show significant numbers will not be able to maintain safe fitness standards until the new pension age of 60.
Sean Starbuck, FBU national officer, said: “Older firefighters were allowed to remain in their current scheme while the message to younger firefighters seems to be 'change your lifestyle, save a lot more and get on with being a member of a worse scheme.'
“This is an extremely important case for us. We have always said that the 2015 scheme was unworkable and did not reflect the job that firefighters actually do. The government simply ignored the evidence we presented and imposed the scheme anyway. We identified areas where we thought younger firefighters were being discriminated against and took up this challenge.
“Our financial advice shows that some firefighters will have to save a lot more of what they earn in order to make up for what they have lost by this imposition. Simply saying change your lifestyle and save more adds insult to injury. But again instead of talking to us they would rather fight with us so we end up in court.”