Hackney firefighters will join national walkout over pensions row

Hackney firefighters will join national walkout over pensions. Picture: PA

Hackney firefighters will join national walkout over pensions. Picture: PA - Credit: sub

Hackney firefighters will be among thousands striking in the UK after union members voted almost 4 to 1 in favour of action in a row over pensions, threatening to be the first one nationwide in a decade.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union backed industrial action by 18,277 votes to 5,166, a majority of 78 per cent today.

The union said planned changes to pensions were ‘unaffordable and unworkable’, would impose an increase in members’ contributions and would put firefighters at greater risk of dismissal without access to a proper pension if they cannot maintain fitness standards as they approach the retirement age of 60.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Expecting large numbers of 60-year-olds to fight fires and rescue families is dangerous to the public and to firefighters.

“The Government is simply ignoring the evidence about the physical demands of firefighting and has been unable to answer our concerns during two years of negotiations.

“None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety. We hope common sense prevails, and the Government returns to the negotiating table.”

Strike action must be taken within 28 days of the ballot taking place, but the union did not set any dates and said it will seek further talks in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

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London Fire Brigade bosses have already removed 27 fire engines from stations across the capital including Kingsland and Shoreditch fire stations which will be used to cover for any industrial action.

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “It’s a pity that we are in this position, but we are prepared and our contingency fire service is ready to operate during a strike.”

The brigade said the engines will be deployed at strategic locations across London to provide fire cover, and a contingency service will be provided by a contractor, supplying basic firefighting and some rescue work.

Fiona Twycross, Labour’s fire spokeswoman on the London Assembly, said: “Today’s ballot for industrial action may look strange to the public, but the fact is the government are trying to force firefighters to work until they are 60.

“Currently they can retire on ill-health grounds before 60 and retain their pension.

“Under the government’s plans, if a firefighter is deemed unfit before they turn 60, they will lose part of their pension.

“The Government is being cynical as it knows from their own review that this will affect two-thirds of firefighters.

“Firefighters have a physically demanding job and the public want them to be fit and healthy.

“By forcing them to work longer and then taking part of their pension off them if they can’t physically cope when they are close to retirement is fundamentally unfair.”