Firefighters in England and Wales were posed for their fourth short pension strike this week, as the battle began to harden into a more protracted dispute.
On Wednesday 13 November, FBU members in England and Wales will strike from 10am to 2pm, another short action designed to show that firefighters do not accept the government’s unworkable pension changes. The differences have hardened since the last strikes on 1 and 4 November, after the fire minister withdrew part of an earlier offer, making the actuarial reduction for retiring early even more draconian.
The most prominent issue is the government’s plan to force firefighters to work beyond their current retirement age of 55 to the age of 60. The government’s own review this year showed that at least a quarter and perhaps 90% would not be fit enough to work to 60.
The government proclaims that firefighters would still get a generous pension, but the FBU maintains that most firefighters will not be able to work a full career to get it. When the government says firefighters will get a £19,000 pension, they ignore the fact that it is reduced if retirement takes place before 60. Thus at 55, the reduction was previously around 22% — meaning an annual pension reduced to under £15,000.
Now that has been withdrawn, the reduction is over 47%, meaning firefighters could work for 35 years to age 55, but then face dismissal for lack of fitness and then a pension of around £9,000 a year — half what they had paid for, and only received ten years later.
Not surprisingly, FBU members are furious at this move by the government. The union will now ballot members across the UK for action short of a strike, with the result out at the beginning of December. At present, there is no visible end to the dispute. Although the government has moved to consult on proposals to prevent the “no job, no pension” scenario, firefighters now see the full extent of the government’s pensions robbery.
With further contribution increases planned for next April, and firefighters paying as much as a sixth of their pay in pension contributions, more action seems highly likely in the coming months and into the new year.