Fire service strike over pension row

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Merseyside Fire & Rescue © Flickr/Harrypope

Merseyside Fire & Rescue. Pic © Flickr/Harrypope

As many as 700 Merseyside fire-fighters could go on a four-day strike, beginning this Friday and in the build-up to Bonfire Night, over rows about raising the retirement age and proposed changes to pension schemes.

The action is part of a UK walkout as members of the Fire Brigade Union will leave work at 6pm on Friday evening and will not return for 96 hours, in protest against the Coalition government’s plans.

Safety officers are already paying £400 a month into their pension, the highest rate in all public sectors, according to the Fire Brigade Union. The retirement age is set to increase from 55 to 60.

Brigade Secretary of the Merseyside FBU, Mark Rowe, told JMU Journalism: “This strike is in relation to the Conservative-led coalition’s attack on fire-fighter pensions. They want us to work longer, pay more and get less.”

According to the secretary, the Williams Review, which is the fire-fighters’ pension report, states that, 75% of employees will be unable to work until they are 60 because of the physical demands of the job, a figure which rises to 85% for female fire-fighters.

When employees reach 55 they are required to have a physical and medical examination and union chiefs claim if they do not pass the test, the emergency service workers are likely to be sacked – leaving them without a job and pension.

Mr Rowe told JMU Journalism: “This is something that the FBU will not accept, it is an incredibly demanding and dangerous job. Would you want nearly 60-year-old fire-fighters arriving in the middle of the night trying to rescue you and carry you down ladders?”

Government Fire Minister, Penny Mordaunt MP, who has been negotiating with the union over the last couple of months, is trying to make a deal in relation to pension changes but the parties have not reached any agreement.

Chairman of Merseyside’s Fire and Rescue Service Authority, Councillor Dave Hanratty, empathised with the employees, telling JMU Journalism: “I just hope the government comes to an amicable agreement with the fire-fighters over the pension issue.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor, Richard Kemp, told JMU Journalism: “As much as I wouldn’t like to see a 60-year-old person climbing up 13 flights of stairs to put out a fire there are many things they can do, such as liaising with the public about fire safety and deliver fire drills in halls of residence and business. The fire service is now proactive in preventing fires, rather than putting them out.”

During the four-day protest, a number of non-FBU members will remain in local stations and any fire emergencies will be dealt with normally.

About Dan Goulding, JMU Journalism