Stop the government attacks on firefighters
FBU appeal for solidarity
Dear sisters and brothers,
Members of the Fire Brigades Union are requesting your solidarity as our pensions campaign takes a new turn. The FBU Executive Council has called a four-day strike in England starting on Friday 31 October at 18:00 and continuing until the same time on Tuesday 4 November.
We have been forced to take this step because the government has started the process to lay the regulations for the new firefighters’ pension scheme, to commence in April 2015. You will know from your own battles and from TUC Debates and campaigns that they want all workers to pay more, work longer and get less for our pensions.
The FBU has made our opposition clear to these government proposals. We have presented evidence, always engaged and negotiated in defence of our members’ hard-won pensions. We have already taken 47 periods of strike action over the past year in England and Wales to seek concessions and to get the government back to the table. This next period of strike action is a significant escalation because the Tory led government has ignored us and hardened its stance towards firefighters.
Our last strikes were in August. Since then we have been told repeatedly by the new English fire minister that the government was considering our key concerns – about firefighters’ working to 60, about firefighters being left with no job and no pension, about the harsh actuarial reduction for retiring ‘early’, about how the new scheme will drive most women out of the job – and other matters.
It is ludicrous and dangerous for both firefighters and the public to expect 60 year olds to fight fires and rescue people from the dangerous situations we encounter on a daily basis. Despite our raising concerns and presenting a significant amount of supporting evidence this warning has been ignored. We were told by the new minister that she understood the particular occupational issues for firefighters and would come back with answers. The government delayed laying the regulations during September and October to make time for this.
Last Wednesday (22 October) FBU negotiators were told that there would be no new proposals and that the arrangements previously proposed would now be imposed. Our members are justifiably furious. We have negotiated. We have been patient. We have talked and we have listened.
The FBU is committed to a negotiated settlement if at all possible.
We have not taken strike action in Scotland or Northern Ireland where real dialogue has taken place and where concessions have been made. Just last week the Welsh government made a new proposal which may significantly improve the situation for a large number of members. In recognition of this we are not taking action in Wales at this moment while these are being discussed in more detail. Unfortunately the evidence has been largely ignored by DCLG and we have now been presented with an unacceptable fait accompli in England.
We do expect a barrage of criticisms from government and the right wing media about putting lives at risk around the bonfire night period. Every night is a tough night for firefighters, especially with fewer crews following all the cuts to frontline staff. They will obviously try to blame the FBU for the strike but the truth is that the blame lies with the government. They are putting lives at risk every day with their cuts and their pension proposals. Fire and rescue services are responsible for ‘business continuity’ during strikes and they all say they have planned adequate cover. The FBU retains a national agreement to return to work where a major incident is declared. Government have forced this action. We would have no need to strike if the government read its own reports, listened to its advisors, or simply behaved with more honour. It is not the FBU that jeopardises public safety.
In these circumstances we turn to our sisters and brothers in the labour movement and ask once again for your solidarity. We would like all unions to send delegations to our picket lines at local fire stations across England. We would appreciate financial support for our hardship fund
(Sort code 08-60-01 Account number 20034726).
FBU members have lost money already in this dispute and in some areas where punitive employers have ‘locked out’ firefighters for longer periods these losses have been severe.
We would welcome your political support, explaining our issues to your members and the wider public, to MPs and others in power.
We ask that you stand with us in words and in deeds. The pensions fight is more than a sectional battle. It is about the living standards of all workers and about the kind of society we want to live in. We are confident that with your support we can make progress.