July 2, 2014 3:03 pm

Firefighters to join UK public sector strike over cuts

Members of the Fire Brigade Union from Tynemouth Community fire station in North Shields stand on the picket line©PA

Members of the Fire Brigade Union from Tynemouth Community fire station in North Shields

Firefighters in England and Wales are to join a one-day strike by public sector workers next week in one of the biggest protests against government cuts since the coalition came to power.

The 40,000 firefighters will join hundreds of thousands of council workers, teachers and civil servants due to walk out on July 10 in a series of disputes over pay, pensions and working conditions. Health workers are also threatening strikes this autumn.

Union leaders have forecast that up to 1.5m will take part next Thursday. It is likely to be the biggest stoppage since about 1.1m public sector workers staged a 24-hour strike over pension changes in November 2011.

The government has frozen or restricted pay rises, changed pension rules and cut about 8 per cent of public sector jobs since 2010 in an effort to reduce the budget deficit and shift economic activity towards the private sector.

The Fire Brigades Union has been embroiled in a long dispute over ministers’ plans to raise the retirement age from 55 to 60 and increase pension contributions. Several strikes over the past year have failed to settle the issue.

The FBU strike is due to take place between 10am and 7pm BST on July 10 and will be the 15th in the firefighters’ campaign. The union is expected to announce further action later this week.

The deal on the table is fair and gives firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector. Additionally, the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme

- Brandon Lewis, fire minister

Matt Wrack, general secretary, said: “The FBU has wanted to settle our dispute for a long time, but the government at Westminster is simply not listening. We are therefore proud to take strike action alongside our colleagues in other unions on 10 July.”

The FBU fears many firefighters could fail the fitness tests required to remain on active duty in their late 50s and would therefore have to leave the service.

Brandon Lewis, fire minister, said the government believed a solution could be reached, “but not under the shadow of industrial action, which only serves to damage firefighters' good standing with the public. By calling more strikes during an open consultation the FBU leadership has once again shown it is not serious about finding a resolution”.

He added: “The deal on the table is fair and gives firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector. Additionally, the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme. Nearly three-quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015.”

The FBU has launched a legal challenge against the government’s proposals, claiming that reducing the pensions available to firefighters by different amounts depending on when they retire after the age of 55 amounts to age discrimination.

Workers who have already said they will take part in the strike on July 10 include civil servants in the Public and Commercial Services union, council and school support workers in the GMB and Unison, and members of the National Union of Teachers.

Mr Wrack said: “The fact that this government has united so many workers to take strike action against them is a testament to the failure of their policies. They are destroying our public services and wrecking the lives of millions.

“If they won’t listen and won’t negotiate, then this is the result and they should face more of the same if necessary.”

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