Firefighters walk out in four-day strike over pensions, warning the public to be vigilant at Halloween fireworks displays

The public have been warned to be extra vigilant over the weekend 

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The Independent Online

Firefighters have gone on strike over the weekend in a bitter row with the Government over pensions, as Halloween fireworks displays are set to take place across the country.

With picket set up outside stations, members of the Fire Brigades Union in England left their stations at 6pm and will return on 6pm on Tuesday, the night before bonfire night.

Fire brigades have put contingency plans into place by hiring contract staff to cover workers, and the public were warned to be vigilant if they attended a fireworks event.

The West Yorkshire brigade warned that the service and the public will be left in a “vulnerable position” and told people to take extra, while the London brigade said it may not attend rubbish or small grass fires or help those shut in a lift during the strike.

The FBU has hit back at Government statements that firefighters will continue to receive one of the best pension packages of any worker - even after reforms to their pension scheme - amid deadlock in a long-running dispute in England which has seen the coalition accused of showing “contempt” for public sector workers.

Industrial action has been averted in Wales as a result of a significant change of direction by the Welsh government, said the FBU.

The union’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, said: “How can it be remotely fair that the prime minister, already a millionaire, enjoys a far greater subsidy from his employer in absolute and proportional terms than a firefighter who is earning less than £30,000 a year? It is sickening hypocrisy.”

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Once again the government is showing its contempt for public-service workers. Evidence warns that raising the normal retirement age for firefighters would lead to older fighters facing no job and no pension after years of good service.

“This same evidence has already led to concessions being made in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland – but the Westminster government has chosen to walk away from the negotiating table.

“We are very concerned about the risks to firefighters, and those who rely on the fire service, when firefighters are forced to stay in frontline service until they reach 60.” However, industrial action has been averted in Wales as a result of a “significant” change of direction by the Welsh Government, said the FBU.

Over the past 18 months fire brigades have staged a series of strikes in protest at changes to pensions and the retirement age.

Firefighter unions claimed workers could lose their jobs if they fail fitness tests in their late 50s.

Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt said all fire and rescue authorities have “robust” and “well-tested” plans in place.

“Public safety is the primary focus and if anyone needs emergency assistance, they should dial 999.”

“We are also consulting on changes to ensure that no firefighter aged 55 or over will face a risk of being left without a job or a good pension.

“Under the new scheme, nearly three-quarters of firefighters will see no change in their pension age in April 2015.

"A firefighter who earns £29,000 will still be able to retire after a full career aged 60 and 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," she added.

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