A number of fire-fighters from the Harrogate station are today (12 June 2014) taken part in the first 24-hour strike announced after minister ploughs ahead with “unworkable” pension scheme.
Firefighters in England and Wales took the decision to strike again over attacks on their pensions after the government confirmed it would implement a new scheme without further negotiations.
A 24-hour strike — the longest yet in the three-year campaign — will take place from 9am on Thursday 12 June, with another set for 10am-5pm on Saturday 21 June.
In addition between the two strikes fire-fighters will not carry out any voluntary overtime — which is routinely needed by many fire and rescue services to maintain fire cover — or conduct training of strikebreakers between the beginning of the first strike and 9am on Sunday 22 June.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: The minister has decided to bury his head in the sand, but he must accept that firefighters simply will not give up fighting for their futures — and our fire and rescue service.
Concerns over these unworkable proposals remain as valid and grave as ever, and the government has ignored all the evidence including it’s own reports.
It is as ever a difficult decision for us to take, but the only way for us to resolve this unnecessary and costly dispute is for the government to start listening to reason.
A spokesperson for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue said: A large percentage of our firefighters are retained (i.e. part-time or on-call), and many of them are not members of the FBU, because of this they were not included in the strike ballot and many will be working as normal.
These staff are fully trained operational staff.
As a result of this there will be many fire stations in North Yorkshire, particularly in the more rural areas, that are unaffected by the strikes.
In addition to these, we will be moving some fire engines so that they are closer to locations where crews will be striking to ensure there is fire cover in place across most of the area.
As it appeared, last year, that there would be no early resolution to the dispute we took the measure of reinforcing our emergency cover, for strike periods, by re-employing some operational firefighters, who had recently left the Service. These individuals are in addition to our existing pool of staff who are working during the strikes.
Although we will seek to respond to all emergencies as quickly as possible this is not a normal level of service as we will be operating with less resources, and it is possible that it may take longer than usual for some fire engines to arrive if we are very busy.
The decision to strike was made at a meeting of the FBU’s executive council on Wednesday 4 June 2014.
On Tuesday FBU officials had met the fire minister, Brandon Lewis, in the hope that discussion could continue, although their appeal fell on deaf ears.
On Monday 23 May, the minister opened a ‘consultation’ on their proposals, signalling an end to discussions with firefighters over the scheme.
However, the Department for Communities and Local Government is still refusing to publish alternative, fully-costed proposals that they have admitted to being in possession of since Wednesday 19 March 2014.
As a result, the FBU argues that the firefighters, the public and other parties — including ministers in the Welsh and Scottish governments — are being kept in the dark, and the consultation being rendered meaningless.
Before 2010, firefighters already contributed one of the highest proportions of their salary towards their pensions (11%), and in April this increased for the third year running.
Firefighters typically now pay over £4,000 a year from a £29,000 salary, and the government has announced they will impose another increase in 2015.
The FBU says increasing numbers of members are considering leaving the pension scheme as a result of its decreasing affordability — posing difficult questions over its sustainability.
Under the government’s proposals, firefighters who are forced to retire before the age of 60 as a result of ageing will have half of their pension taken away.
The government’s own report, published in December 2013 by Dr Tony Williams, found that large numbers of firefighters would be unable to maintain operational fitness until 60.
The two strikes will be the thirteenth and fourteenth over pensions. The first was on Thursday 24 September 2013.