Firefighters in England and Wales began strike action on eight consecutive days this week, in an increasingly acrimonious and protracted battle over pensions.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has organised strikes from 6 until 8 in the morning and 5 and 7 in the evening from Monday to Thursday, and on Monday week. Friday’s strikes are 6-8am and then 11pm-1am. On Saturday the strikes are 11am-1pm and 11pm-1am. On Sunday they are 5-7pm. The union also commences action short of a strike from 7pm on 21 July.
The FBU said it called the extended action because the government is merely ploughing ahead, forcing firefighters to react. This is despite a recent academic report on firefighter fitness by the University of Bath, which showed that the fitness standard required for firefighting of 42 VO2max is exactly the level suggested by the FBU – and therefore too high for most people at 60.
The FBU has also pointed to the situation in Northern Ireland, whose government has accepted the arguments on fitness and offered firefighters a retirement age of 55. The union says this demonstrates that the Westminster government’s position is not justified by evidence or affordability.
The dispute however is far from over and may escalate further. Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service locked out firefighters for entire shifts during this week’s industrial action, posing serious questions about public safety. The vindictive move by Bucks chief fire officer Mark Jones will lead to significantly reduced fire cover across the county.