Firefighters across England and Wales stage strike in row over pensions

Members of Fire Brigades Union (FBU) walk out for four hours

Firefighters across England and Wales walked out on strike today in a bitter row over pensions, with the threat of further action if the dispute is not resolved.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) left their stations and set up picket lines, leaving brigades to put into place contingency plans.

Some, including London and Surrey, were using private contractors to cover for the strikers, while others were relying on retained firefighters and volunteers.

The union has not ruled out further industrial action if the dispute continues.

A war of words was raging between the Government and the FBU as the strike went ahead.

The union is campaigning against changes it says will mean firefighters will have to work longer, pay more into their pensions and receive less in retirement.

The move will also see firefighters having to work on frontline duties until they are 60, the union argued.

But the Government maintained that the changes were fair and would still give firemen and women one of the most generous pensions in the public sector.

Fire minister Brandon Lewis said the dispute was over pensions, not complaints that firefighters will have to work on the front line until they are 60.

He said: "The Government has listened to union concerns - firefighters will still get one of the most generous pension schemes in 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 sector pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.

"The firefighter pension age of 60 was introduced in 2006 and is in line with the police and armed forces.

"We have been clear with the Fire Brigades Union our pension reforms are not introducing a national fitness standard. Firefighter fitness remains a local fire and rescue authority matter - Government is helping local employers and the union to work together on this issue."

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "This initial strike is a warning shot to Government. Firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions. Governments in Westminster and Cardiff have simply refused to see sense on these issues.

"It is ludicrous to expect firefighters to fight fires and rescue families in their late 50s. The lives of the general public and firefighters themselves will be endangered.

"None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety."

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, who will join a picket line in Brighton, said: "There are many reasons why the Government shouldn't be pressing ahead with these unfair and ill-thought-out changes, with concerns about the likely impact on safety surely top of the list.

"Being able to save people from burning buildings or rescue them from the scene of a multiple vehicle pile-up requires not just bravery, but a good deal of physical strength too.

"There won't be many members of the public who would feel confident about being rescued from a serious fire if the only route out of the inferno was down a ladder on the back of a firefighter who was about to turn 60. Yet that is exactly what the FBU fears could happen if the Government gets its way.

"Ministers might say that they'd move older staff off frontline duties but the reality is likely to be very different.

"The Government's own figures show that thousands of firefighters in their 50s could face the sack without much of a pension, simply because they would no longer be able to meet the required fitness standard."

Fire brigades have drawn up their own contingency plans to deal with the strike because military Green Goddess machines, which have been used as cover in previous disputes, are no longer available.

They were sold or donated several years ago to countries including Zambia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bosnia, Peru, Bolivia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Argentina, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sierra Leone. They have been sold by the Ministry of Defence to countries including Malta.

The public has been told that 999 calls will be answered, but brigades added that some non-emergency calls such as those to floods or rubbish fires will not be dealt with.

Almost 80% of FBU members voted in favour of industrial action in a ballot that ended earlier this month, although union officials said they left the strike to the last possible moment to allow for the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Firefighters in Scotland will not be joining the strike while union officials discuss proposals put forward by the Scottish Government.

A spokesman for the Communities and Local Government Department said: "All fire and rescue authorities now have a statutory duty to put continuity plans in place for emergencies, including strike action, under the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

"Many are using experienced officers and retained or on-call firefighters who are not part of the FBU action.

"The Government will be closely monitoring the situation throughout and has a strategic back-up it can deploy if needed."

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said: "We can confirm that the MoD is providing support to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and the Welsh Government during industrial action by the Fire Brigades Union.

"In England the MoD is providing a strategic reserve to be deployed only in the event of a major incident, while in South Wales MoD personnel are fulfilling the role of frontline firefighters. The MoD is also providing a reserve in South Wales should more capability be required.

"The personnel being deployed are professional Royal Navy and Royal Air Force firefighters with fully trained Army crewmembers in support and they are using civilian appliances."

PA

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Technician

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are current...

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £135 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Permanent post for a Key stag...

Geography Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Geography Teacher urgently ...

SEN Teachers and Support Staff

£50 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an SEN Teacher or L...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering