Firefighters to stage two more strikes in pensions row

Firefighters attending a union rally
Image caption Firefighters want assurances about working up until the age of 60

Firefighters in England and Wales are to stage two more strikes in the run-up to bonfire night in a row over pensions, the Fire Brigades Union says.

The government wants firefighters to work up to 60 but the union says this is too old to be fighting fires.

FBU members are due to walk out on 1 November from 18:30 to 23:00 GMT and on 4 November from 06:00 to 08:00 GMT.

In the first round of action last month, 32,000 union members in England and Wales walked out, the FBU said.

A second strike was called off earlier this month after progress was made during talks.

The FBU postponed the five-hour strike saying that the government and fire employers had shifted their position and recognised that firefighters faced losing their jobs and a "large chunk" of their pensions under new changes imposed in April.

However, the FBU now says the government and fire employers have failed to offer any firm guarantees on jobs or pensions.

Fitness tests

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: "The Westminster government has created this mess, but it is refusing to clear it up.

"It now recognises the problem but it won't provide the legal and financial guarantees firefighters need to ensure they have a job and an unreduced pension in the future.

"Firefighters face the sack towards the end of their career and the loss of their pension. That can't be right.

"The employers promised to tackle the issue of firefighters facing the sack for failing fitness tests last week, only to say they can't offer any guarantees this week.

"That is simply not the way to run a public service.

"The government is now making threats to withdraw some of the other concessions they have made this year."

The government has called the fresh action "completely unnecessary" and damaging to the fire service's reputation.

Fire minister Brandon Lewis said: "Talks were progressing encouragingly and in good faith so for the FBU to walk away after only four days of negotiation is completely baffling."

He said the government had matched the fitness terms accepted in Scotland and the government had facilitated talks between the FBU and their employers over the issue of firefighter fitness.

Fireworks and bonfires

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said it was prepared to deal with further strikes and would have 27 fire engines based at strategic points across the capital.

"The evening strike date falls on the Friday before bonfire night. It is just before Diwali and coincides with half-term, so people need to be really careful with fireworks and bonfires," he said.

During the first strike on 25 September, contingency plans at the 46 fire services in England and three in Wales included using part-time and volunteer firefighters, calling in non-union fire crews and bringing in private contractors.

The armed forces had a back-up role and in the event of a major incident, union members could have returned to work.

No major incidents were reported during the four-hour strike which was the first national walkout for a decade.

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