The scale of last week's national fire strike should make a government reaction a necessity according to both Labour's London Assembly fire representative and West Midland's Fire & Rescue Authority chair.
Speaking after the four-hour Fire Brigades’ Union industrial action over changes to firefighters’ pensions [26 Sept], London Assembly Labour Group Fire spokesperson, Fiona Twycross AM, said: “The government must now constructively engage with the Fire Brigades’ Union to ensure that there is no further industrial action. It is time all parties reached an agreement in the interests of the public. The Mayor needs to use his position of influence to get the government to negotiate with the FBU. No-one wants to see another fire strike, but the FBU and its members are being put in an impossible position.
“It is fundamentally unfair to make firefighters work longer and then take part of their pension away if they are unable to cope with the physical demands of the job. The government is now expecting firefighters to work until they are 60, despite the government’s review which said that two thirds of firefighters will have to retire because of ill-health when they are 55.
“All of this is happening against a backdrop of deep cuts to frontline fire services in London. Boris is axing 10 fire stations, 14 fire engines and 552 firefighters. It is time the Mayor and the government valued our frontline emergency services and the brave men and women who keep us all safe.”
Unacceptable way to treat firefighters
While there were no major incidents during the hours of the strike, the increase risk shows the need for a policy change according to Councillor John Edwards, Chair of the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority.
"I'm pleased that everyone in the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority area stayed safe through the four-hour strike period this afternoon. A firefighters strike is something that no-one ever really wants and it's always the very last resort at the end of a long period of discussion and negotiation," said.
"I wrote to the Fire Minister Brandon Lewis MP back in April and asked him to settle the dispute around the normal pension age in line with the evidence presented by the FBU and by his own Williams review which he established and for which he selected the Chair.
Dr Williams said in his report to the Minister that if the retirement age was raised to 60 "there will be a significant number of firefighters who expected to retire at age 55 and who will have difficulty maintaining fitness beyond this age".
The report also found that "significant numbers will be in a position where they can no longer cope, often through loss of fitness, but the only option is to leave or have their contract terminated on capability grounds without early payment of pension".
Cllr Edwards added: "I don’t think this is an acceptable way to treat firefighters who have committed decades to public service in a difficult and dangerous profession.
"I will now be writing again to the Fire Minister to remind him that this dispute is not of our making and that it is beyond our ability to control or settle it. I will urge him in the interests of public safety to return to formal negotiation."