The FBU’s long fought case against age discrimination of over 6,000 firefighters with regards to the 2015 pension changes is being heard this week in Court 1 at Fleetbank House in London.
Back in 2015 the government brought in a new pensions scheme that the FBU regards as ‘unworkable’ and ‘does not reflect the job that firefighters actually do’ [pg 31 EC report 2017].
FBU members took strike action to highlight the damage the government’s changes would mean, which was met with overwhelming public support.
Whilst there was some movement due to the action taken, ultimately the pension changes were detrimental to firefighters. There remain huge issues to be addressed.
The FBU has taken up some of these issues in the courts. In particular:
The changes saw firefighters under 45 (as of 1st April 2012) automatically transferred from the 1992 Firefighters Pension Scheme to the much worse 2015 pension scheme. In short, these younger firefighters would be having to work until 60 to pay more in and get less out of their pension. Firefighters over the age of 45 (as of 1st April 2012) were able to stay with their old pension. So what pension you get depended solely on your age. This is blatant age discrimination and we have laws against it.
The government admits that it is age discrimination, but argues that they were making a ‘social policy choice’ and as such don’t need to justify it. They argue that they were ‘protecting members nearer retirement’ and that younger workers would be able to make lifestyle adjustments to cope.
The FBU argues that the government is an employer and this is a matter of how employers treat their employees – and by law they can’t discriminate on the basis of protected characteristics – like age. Saying someone is closer to retirement is just a different way of saying that they are older. Further, there has been no analysis of why young workers would be less effected by having worse pensions for longer. What extreme life style changes would have to be undertaken to make up for the money lost? Would they genuinely be reasonable? The FBU has calculated that competent firefighters who are being discriminated against would need to save between £11-19k a year to compensate for the amount they would lose on retirement.
Disappointingly, the original Employment Tribunal found in favour of the government and against firefighters. However a similar Employment Tribunal, at around the same time, but affecting judges found in favour of the judges.
The FBU are appealing against the finding against firefighters. The government are appealing the finding in favour of the judges. Both cases are being held jointly.
FBU members will be following this four day case closely. Justice for the 6,000 and the judges.
Members may find circular: 2017HOC0176MW a useful and detailed recap of the arguments and events - all predicted next steps have materialised.