Firefighters walk out in row over pensions

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FBU members at Wallasey Fire station. Pic by Josie O’Sullivan © JMU Journalism

Merseyside firefighters walked out on strike at the weekend as part of national industrial strike over a row over pensions with the government.

The strike started on Friday night at 6pm and was fixed to last for four days over the Halloween and Bonfire period, seeing 700 members striking at stations across Merseyside, campaigning against the plans for the government to increase their retirement age to 60, and changes to pension schemes for 2015.

Mark Rowe, Brigade Secretary for the Merseyside FBU, told JMU journalism: “It’s disgraceful to treat people like this. The pension scheme that they have put in place is unworkable, unsustainable and simply unfair.”

Firefighters already pay £400 a month into pensions – the highest paying rate out of all public sector workers.

Mr Rowe, who has worked in the fire service for 27 years, acknowledged the fact that the government may see it as a risk striking over the bonfire period but said: “The thing that’s risky is having 60 year old firefighters running up and down ladders. It’s dangerous for the public and dangerous for us.”

The government’s ‘Williams Review’ states that 75% of employees will be unable to work up until the age of 60, due to the job being so physically demanding, with 87% of female firefighters currently employed in the UK will be unable to achieve the fitness standards of the job up until the late 50s and early 60s. If fitness is not reached, they will be dismissed, leaving them with no job or pension.

Video report by Hannah Perselli, JMU Journalism TV

The workers have also faced cuts in Merseyside. Last year, 14 fire appliances were lost and, over the last decade, the number of employees have gone from 1,400 to 768, with further consultations which may see the closure of eight fire stations.

A member of the FBU who was on strike outside Wallasey Fire station, John Vincent, told JMU Journalism: “I’m striking for my retirement in the future. I’m thinking of my family in the long term, trying to support them when I get older.”

Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt, who the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government, said: “I am convinced that the final scheme design provides the best, balanced deal for all firefighters. The regulations have been signed by two Treasury commissioners and myself, have now been laid in Parliament, and will become the law.”

A consultation will be taking place on Friday at The Liner Hotel in Liverpool, which will see all 52 FBU officials from the local Fire and Rescue Service attending, to decide the next steps in the strike action that has been ongoing for 14 months.

About Josie O'Sullivan, JMU Journalism