Firefighters in England and Wales will strike on Wednesday 25 September after governments in Westminster and Cardiff refused to budge in the pensions dispute with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
The FBU does not accept the proposed pension scheme that may see firefighters forced out of the job early or forced to work to 60, putting public safety at risk.
Firefighters voted by nearly four-to-one in the ballot over the summer. Although some progress has been made in Scotland, which means strikes will not take place there next week, the lack of movement at Westminster meant action had to be called. The strike on Wednesday lasts four hours from 12 noon to 4pm.
The FBU issued a statement stating it had “no option” but to call periods of strike action in England and Wales. Last week, a motion to the executive from the London region noted that “the apparent lack of progress and reluctance to set strike dates, is causing frustration, and some degree of disorientation, among our members”. It demanded that the executive not to agree to any extensions to the legal time limit for taking strike action unless either significant progress had been made in negotiations or proposals had been received which it is prepared to recommend to all FBU members for acceptance.
A London FBU statement said: “Enough is enough. We have negotiated for over two years. We have talked until we are blue in the face. We have tested our members’ patience to breaking point (and probably far beyond). There is no indication at all of any real progress in recent negotiations; no sign that the government is truly interested in offering further concessions. So the message from the London region to the national union is clear: Something needs to happen now.”
The FBU nationally says that revised proposals from the Scottish government mean industrial action will not proceed in Scotland at this time, while consultation with members there takes place. No agreement has yet been reached in Scotland.
London FBU has been critical of this decision, which it says is “divisive, damaging and ultimately wrong for a campaign”. Instead, it argued that “only proposals that have the support of all three administrations will, if worthy, be put to FBU members for consultation”.
The London region is right that strike action is necessary now, to test the resolve of the government and to make it clear firefighters will not accept a botched pension scheme.
However a well-thought through strategy is needed to ensure firefighters don’t end up with a shoddy deal once the action has taken place.