At the time of writing and unless the Government returns to the negotiating table, firefighters at Kings Lynn and across the country will be taking industrial action tomorrow.
For the past two years the Fire Brigades Union has been in negotiation with the Government. l have visited my MP both at Westminster and his local surgery. I have written letters and provided him with information in an effort to avert industrial action.
Brandon Lewis, the Fire Minister’s only response seems to be that we will still get one of the best pensions in both the public and private sector (not as good as an MP’s).
Our concerns are about public safety, firefighters’ safety and the pension we signed up to.
The Government wants us to work to the age of 60 . Is this reasonable and most of all safe?
All that anyone really wants from the service they pay for is a fire engine which arrives on time with the best equipment and fit and healthy firefighters who are capable of working in arduous, dangerous and testing situations making decisions that are literally life-saving.
What do the public think of fire engines full of OAPs? This is a very real possibility. In Norfolk there has been no recruitment to the full time service for eight years, so we are not getting the mix of old and new. If the pension age were to increase this will exacerbate the problem.
In the past, new recruits would do the more strenuous jobs and the older experienced firefighters would assume other roles, like officer in charge or driver roles. This no longer happens.
The Government commissioned a review of pension age carried out by Dr Williams. It states that to achieve a retirement age of 60 the standard of VO2 max fitness they would have to be at a fitness standard often found in athlete – a standard that up to 85 per cent of firefighters would fail aged 55 and up to 90 per cent would fail aged 60.
He states this is the worse case scenario. He does offer a best case scenario where approximately 15 per cent would fail at 55 and 23 per cent would fail aged 60. So that’s nearly a quarter of all firefighters would be unfit for duty, and that’s the best case scenario.
To achieve this level of fitness firefighters will need to be recruited with a level of fitness much higher than they currently are.
It also ignores the amount of physical exercise required to maintain this level of fitness. So what happens if a firefighter fails a fitness assessments? Brandon Lewis states this is an issue for individual fire and rescue authorities which neatly absolves the Government of its responsibility.
So what does the local authority say about this? It says this will lead to an increase in capability dismissals – no job and no pension.
Brandon Lewis also states there may be redeployment opportunities into non-operational roles. In a recent survey across all fire authorities in the UK there were only 16 positions available.
Again Brandon Lewis places this responsibility with individual authorities.
One of the misconceptions I hear is that we get a gold-plated free pension. This could not be further from the truth.
I pay 13 per cent of my wages into my pension, some of the highest contributions in both public and private sector. Under Government proposals in 2015 this will rise to 14-plus per cent. However the Government cannot actually confirm how much we will pay until they get final costings.
Would you sign up to a pension if you did not know how much it will cost you? But in essence we can say this means work longer, pay more and get less.
There will be members of the general public who will say we are an emergency service and should not be able to strike. There will also be people who have seen their own pensions both in private and public sector who have seen there values drop or lost completely.
Those people may not have much sympathy with our fight. What I would ask is was it right? And if you could, would you fight ?
The Government will say that this strike is irresponsible and not needed. I am angry and frustrated that after two years of negotiation this government has ignored the sound evidence provided by my union.
I do not want to go on strike, but feel I have been forced into this position.
I would ask anyone in the King’s Lynn area whether you have visited the station with a community group, or we have visited your home or school to give fire prevention advice or fit smoke detectors or if you have seen us at any charity events or have visited your own community event.
I think you will have a different view.
After all who would you trust, firefighters or MPs?