To begin with we have a legal right to go on strike, the same as anyone else. We are employees and just because we’re doing a particular job doesn’t preclude us from taking industrial action, writes Steve Allen.
The Fire Brigades Union has been negotiating nationally for three years and has never walked away from the negotiating table.
We’re always willing to talk and find a compromise.
We have supplied various solutions for the Government to consider all the way through this dispute.
Our arguments are based on facts supported by evidence, none of which has been counted by the Government.
The pension scheme they devised in 2012 is not fit for purpose.
It doesn’t take into account the occupational demands and stresses put on individuals throughout their working life, such as the accumulative demands the role of a firefighter has on fitness.
As you get older it’s harder to maintain your fitness.
The Government’s own report that it commissioned showed that 66 per cent of firefighters wouldn’t be able to maintain their fitness past the age of 55, and this would drop to eight or nine per cent by the age of 60.
This has two results – it puts fire crews and the public at risk by potentially sending unfit firefighters into dangerous situations to rescue people.
Also, if the fire service decides that it can’t work with these people it can sack them for being incapable.
If this happens, they have no real access to their pension scheme until state pension age.
This is the real reason why we’re taking industrial action. The Government has refused to listen to its own report that it has commissioned, which shows that there’s a real risk of firefighters losing their job when they get past the age of 55.
The Fire Brigades Union does not want to go on strike and deprive the public from fire cover, but what can we do as a union representing the vast majority of firefighters in the country.
The public sector will spend £95 billion it doesn’t have this year, equivalent to £1,500 each or around £6,000 for a family of four, writes Rory Meakin.
We’re in no mood for the taxman to empty our pockets even more aggressively, so that means that savings must be found in areas of unnecessary spending to balance the books. One such area is the overly generous pension schemes offered to public sector staff.
The Fire Brigades Union chiefs have called this a “vicious” attack on their members’ financial circumstances, but in fact the proposals do not go far enough.
There is a reason why, despite the complaints, fire brigade staff will carry on paying in the “unacceptable” employee contributions to participate in the scheme – rather than opting out and setting up a private pension instead.
It’s because they are extraordinarily generous. Slightly less generous than before, yes. But nonetheless still very generous indeed. For example, a firefighter who earns £29,000 a year will be able to retire at 60 on £19,000 which will be topped up to £26,000 when eligible for the state pension.
Crucially, the pension benefits are uprated with average earnings, which tend to rise faster than prices.
This detail is part of what makes this scheme so valuable to members – and so costly for taxpayers.
Increased longevity and the falling value of annuities, together with less favourable tax treatment, have meant that salary-related pension schemes are no longer available to most workers in the private sector.
The higher costs just aren’t worth it for most of us. So it’s pretty galling to hear about those in the public sector angry that theirs aren’t as generous as they’d like. And the cost of that generosity is by no means small. While firefighters contribute around £100 million from their salaries to their pension scheme, taxpayers are currently forking out over £500 million. That’s unsustainable.
Ultimately, this dispute comes down to cash. The unions want more of it for their members than taxpayers can afford, and the Government is living beyond our means.
Everyone is grateful for the work that fire crews do. They risk their lives to rescue others and make sure we understand how best to protect ourselves from danger.
But the Fire Brigades Union strike is unfair, unsustainable and unrealistic.
They should know a good deal when they see it and call off the strike. Financial realities mean that our children and grandchildren will have higher taxes to pay off debts we rack up today.
- Our top stories