Firefighters in England and Wales will stage three strikes over the Christmas and New Year period, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has announced.
Firefighters will walk out for five hours from 7pm on 24 December, for six hours from 6:30pm on 31 December and for two hours from 6:30 on 3 January. Firefighters in England, Wales and Scotland will also refuse to work voluntary overtime during the weekend after Christmas, from between 7pm on 27 December and 7pm on 29 December.
FBU General Secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “Firefighters provide a first-class standard of service 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, and these strikes will remind government just how reliant they are on our members’ professionalism, commitment and flexibility.
“However, there should be no need for industrial action, and it’s absurd that firefighters’ concerns over pensions have not been addressed already.
“The government must stop claiming they are negotiating when they have refused to talk for two months and insist on forcing through proposals that are unaffordable, unworkable and unfair.
“By simply conceding common sense and allowing firefighters a fair deal, the government could end this industrial action today.”
As with previous strikes, on the three dates all FBU members in England and Wales will stop work apart from those working in control centres. The strikes would be the seventh, eighth and ninth to take place since the dispute escalated in September.
Firefighters’ pension schemes are among the most expensive for workers anywhere in the public or private sector, but among the cheapest proportionally for the government.
Most firefighters, who take home about £1,650 a month, already pay £320 or more a month into their pensions, and from April 2014 this would rise for the third year in a row to over £340 a month (£4,000 a year), with many facing a fourth consecutive rise of 2.2% in 2015.
On top of this, a large section of firefighters face an additional threat to their pensions as a result of the government refusing to honour long-standing agreements. As a result, they will not receive the pension they were promised despite paying into their scheme for many years.
The union claims that the government’s proposals are “designed to fail” because they ignore the physical demands and fitness standards required by the occupation.
Fire Minister Brandon Lewis MP said the move was “cynical” and would damage the “firefighters’ standing with the public.”
He added: “The decision by FBU leaders to interrupt the Christmas holiday season with unnecessary industrial action is completely cynical. I met with the FBU on 4 December to continue discussions but their actions today show that they are not serious about resolving this dispute, which simply further damages firefighters’ standing with the public.
“The deal on the table gives firefighters one of the most generous pension schemes in all the public sector. A firefighter who earns £29,000 and retires after a full career aged 60 will get a £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.
“I would like to reassure the public that there are robust contingency arrangements in place.”