Firefighters strike looks 'unavoidable', says union

A fire engine Negotiations have been going on between firefighters and the government for about two years

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Strike action by firefighters in a row over pensions appears "unavoidable", the Fire Brigades Union has warned.

Talks with government in England and Wales have reached a stalemate, and the union said an announcement of strike action in the two countries, the first in more than a decade, was likely soon.

But it said there had been progress in Scotland, which could avoid a strike.

The government called its pensions offer "generous" and said there were no plans for further talks with the union.

The government has offered to release full pensions to firefighters when they reach the age of 60.

But the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has argued that many will be unable to maintain their fitness standards that long, resulting in increased risk to public safety.

Alternatively, firefighters who had to retire in their 50s would lose thousands of pounds, the union said.

Start Quote

Progress can be made through talks when both sides are willing”

End Quote Matt Wrack FBU general secretary

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "As a result of the refusal of governments in Westminster and Cardiff to see sense on firefighter pensions, it now appears that strike action is unavoidable in England and Wales.

"Almost 80% of firefighters voted in favour of industrial action if no progress could be made, but we have tried everything to avoid strike action being necessary."

Revisions to the proposals from the Scottish government could mean industrial action is avoided there, the union said.

"Although we are some way from an agreement, the Scottish government's decision to engage positively with firefighters, offer improved proposals and not set any arbitrary deadlines for talks demonstrates that progress can be made through talks when both sides are willing," Mr Wrack said.

"However, our strike ballot remains in place in Scotland and our members in Scotland remain ready for action should it be necessary.

"It's not too late to avoid a strike: the governments of England and Wales must see sense, put public safety first and come back to the negotiating table willing to compromise."

Contingency plans

Brandon Lewis, fire minister for England, said: "The pension on offer to firefighters is one of the most generous in the public sector.

"After two years of discussions and improved terms firefighters will still get one of the most generous public service pensions available - £26,000 a year, when including the £7,000 state pension.

"Someone in the private sector would have to contribute twice as much to get the same pension."

He added that, in the event of a strike, all 46 fire and rescue authorities in England had "robust contingency plans in place".

A Scottish government spokesman said that there would be no compulsory redundancies and no privatisation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

Community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham said: "We agree that firefighters need clarity over their future pensions and terms and conditions, and we will work with FBU and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to clarify those areas in our proposals where they have sought further detail."

A spokesman for the Welsh government did not respond to a request for comment.

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