Firefighters plan May Bank Holiday strike

Action comes as unions claim the coalition is "burying its head in the sand"

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The Independent Online

Firefighters plan to strike over the May Bank Holiday weekend, amid a long-running dispute with the Government over pensions.

Union leaders announced the strike on Thursday, and claimed that the coalition is "burying its head in the sand".

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in England and Wales will withdraw their labour for five hours from noon on 2 May, between 2pm and 2am on 3 May and between 10am and 3pm on 5 May.

There will also be a ban on voluntary overtime across England and Wales from 3pm on 4 May until noon on 9 May.

In Scotland, there will be a ban on voluntary overtime between noon on 2 May and noon on 9 May.

The action follows a series of strikes last year in protest at plans that would see officers retiring later, and changes to pensions. Further action at the time was put on hold while talks were held.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "After three years of negotiations and an intense four months presenting an indisputable, evidence-based case for the need to ensure a pension scheme that takes account the unique occupation of firefighting, the Government is still burying its head in the sand.

"Several members of Government were only too keen to praise firefighters during the winter floods, but their words amount to nothing when they simultaneously ignore issues that threaten the future offirefighters and their families.

“Nevertheless, we remain totally committed to resolving the dispute through negotiation, and are ready to meet to consider a workable proposal as soon as possible."

Talks have been taking place since a strike on 3 January last year, where the union met with the conciliation service Acas outlining its concerns and “frustration” at the lack of progress.

The union wrote to the Government earlier this month setting a deadline of today for an improved offer.

The FBU executive unanimously decided to call more strikes. The union maintains that firefighters face the threat of being sacked “merely for getting older”, as well as having to pay increased pension contributions.

Fire Minister Brandon Lewis said: “By calling unnecessary strike action, the FBU has shown it is not serious about finding a resolution to this dispute for its members and stands only to further damage firefighters' standing with the public

"The Government has met with the FBU on many occasions, most recently during April, and has remained in ongoing communication to find a solution. Only yesterday, I wrote to the FBU saying proposals are still under consideration and stressed the importance of maintaining an open dialogue on this and other matters.

"The deal on the table gives firefighters one of the most generous pension schemes in all the public sector, and the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme.

"Nearly half will see no change and even firefighters who are not protected will see no change until 2015.

Additional  reporting by PA