A striking Eastleigh firefighter has dared government minister Brandon Lewis to ‘walk in my boots’ and experience for himself the reality of life on the fire service frontline before making changes to the firefighter’s pension scheme.
Fireman Justin Boyle was speaking to Eastleigh News while on a picket line outside Eastleigh’s fire station as hundreds of Hampshire firefighters took part in national four hour stoppage between noon and 4 pm today – the first national action organised by the Fire Brigades Union in 11 years.
Although Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service had put contingency cover in place, FBU national officer John McGhee slammed their plans as ‘completely inadequate’ insisting that public safety had been compromised.
McGhee – who was visiting his members at the Steele Close station – also described claims that the dispute lacked a mandate as “nonsense” after a Conservative MP had complained that less than half of the FBU membership had taken part in the strike ballot.
The union official pointed out that 78% of those that took part in the ballot (18,277) had voted for action.
The dispute centres on government proposals to increase the current retirement age of fire servicemen and women from 55 to 60 and to persuade them to opt in to a new pension plan.
Fire minister Brandon Lewis had earlier written to fire service personnel claiming that over half of the pensionable workforce would see no change to value of their pensions but firefighter Boyle told Eastleigh News he feared he was one of those who would receive a reduced payout on terms far less favourable than those he had been promised when he first joined the service.
Boyle said he thought that an increase in retirement age could result in more firefighters being invalided out of the service due to sickness or accident because there was only 500 ‘desk jobs’ available throughout the entire UK fire service.
Claims by the Fire Minister that most staff would enjoy, on average, a £26,000 a year pension were described as ‘misleading ‘ by John McGhee because, he contended, this would only apply to a minority of pensioners with 40 years’ service and the figure included the £7,000 state retirement pension.
After the protest finished HFRS reported that during the four hour period 37 vehicles had remained operational across Hampshire providing over 50% coverage and the only major incident was a reported house fire in Millbrook which turned out to be a false alarm. Retained firemen had arrived on scene within eight minutes of the emergency call which HFRS stated was within the normal expected response time.
Shortly after the strike action ended Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said in a statement:
“This was solidly supported strike action by firefighters across England and Wales. It has demonstrated their anger and their determination.
“We haven’t ruled out further industrial action, but let’s hope common sense wins out, public safety is put first and the government comes back open to compromise.”
FBU national officer John McGhee paid tribute to his members saying:
“They risk their lives on a daily basis, running into buildings other people are running out of.”