The FBU’s dispute over pensions escalated last week after the fire minister withdrew a previous offer in the wake of further strikes.
Firefighters in England and Wales held two further solid strikes on Friday 1 November for four and a half hours and a further two hour strike on Monday 4 November. A further strike is planned for Wednesday 13 November.
However a last minute intervention by fire minister Brandon Lewis just before the Friday strike began has worsened the prospect of a settlement, after he withdrew proposals made in June – increasing the penalty for firefighters forced to retire early on fitness grounds.
The dispute is now reaching a critical stage. On 17 October, the employers put forward an 11 point plan on fitness and capability, a crucial element of the conflict. The FBU argues that most firefighters will not be fit enough to work beyond the current retirement age of 55, leaving those firefighters without a job and with a pension reduced by over 40%. The government’s own evidence backs this claim.
The FBU called off a planned strike on 19 October to explore the proposals. However just days later the employers admitted they could offer no guarantees on the “no job, no pension” issue. A letter from chief fire officers has underlined that firefighters would face capability dismissal if they cannot meet the fitness standards towards the end of their working life.
The government know their new pension scheme is unworkable, but are not prepared to deal with the consequences of their folly. They simply want to force through the new arrangements and make firefighters pay for any problems.
For its part, the FBU cannot back off, having exposed the contradiction in the government’s position.
This means more action is likely in an increasingly bitter dispute.