Firefighters went on strike across the EastLondonLines boroughs yesterday and Friday to protest against the Government’s reforms to their pension scheme.
The strikes, organised by the Fire Brigade Union, marked the firefighters’ fifth and sixth walkouts since September.
The emergency service put in place received 88 calls over the four hour period that the firefighters were on strike yesterday. One of the fires they attended to was a first floor flat burning in Millwall in Tower Hamlets.
FBU members were protesting against Government reforms to the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme that will mean a higher rate of their wages contributed to pension. For most firefighters, this is 14.2 per cent of their £28,000 salary.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “By forcing thousands of firefighters into a new and worse pension scheme, the government is also refusing to honour the pension agreement they made with firefighters on joining the fire service. Our members have paid their share and expect the government to deliver the pension we signed up to.”
Firefighters have one of the most expensive pension schemes in the UK. Teachers and nurses who earn a similar salary, only contribute 7.9 per cent and 8 per cent respectively to their pension schemes.
Controversy has also been sparked by the Government’s decision to push the retirement age to 60. This will force firefighters to maintain a high standard of physical fitness if they want to avoid redundancy.
Firefighters who take home £1,650 a month and pay £340 of it into the pension scheme, face a retirement pension of £9,000 a year if they are unable to meet the physical demands of the job after the age of 55 – even if they have been paying into the fund for 35 years.
Commenting on the extended retirement age, Wrack said: “It is a callous way to treat men and women who have out their lives on the line to protect others.”
Wrack continued: “We cannot stand by and do nothing as our members’ conditions of service are eroded. The government has refused to take account of the issue, confining itself to issuing misleading propaganda about ‘generous pensions’. These strikes are intended to ensure we cannot be ignored.”
As a consequence of the strikes, Bow station in Tower Hamlets, Kingsland station in Hackney, Lewisham’s Downham and New Cross stations in East London, were closed down. 27 fire engines were put in place across London to handle emergencies and attended to 14 incidents over the striking period.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said:
“Contingency crews will deal with emergencies across London during this period of industrial action. This arrangement will not replicate a normal service though and some less serious incidents, like fire alarms and bin fires, will not be attended.”
Christmas party goers had been encouraged by the FBU to get take away instead of cooking late hour meals whilst drunk this past weekend. One of the busiest Christmas party weekends.