“Walk in my boots” dares striking Eastleigh fireman

Striking firemen were forbidden to wear their uniform on the picket line

Striking firemen were forbidden to wear their uniform on the picket line

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.”

  4 comments for ““Walk in my boots” dares striking Eastleigh fireman

  1. Rosie
    September 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    Firemen are amazing, selfless people who this country needs to support. To say that they should remain actively on full fire-fighting duties up to age 60, especially if they have been fire fighting and attending emergencies for many years, just shows how this Government has no clue of the real world and the workers within it, especially the emergency services!
    It would make sense for the 55 general age limit to stay, with the option of working on full duties to age 60 if (a) the fire fighter wants that and (b) they are fully fit to carry on.
    Having said that, public sector pensions overall are still very generous (many private sector workers lost such good schemes 15-25 years ago, even in the then hugely profitable banks and financial services companies!). Many private sector pension funds’ administration has also been sold on so many times that a worker’s pension fund can have been vastly reduced, so a huge number of private sector workers will receive less than the current minimum wage equivalent when they eventually reach retirement, even if they earned good salaries, paid additonal pension contributions and work 30-40 years or more. The public sector therefore also needs to be realistic in their expectations, especially in the current economic climate.
    So, going back to fire fighters, perhaps a compromise would be a proportionate pension based on service to age 55 (after all, fire fighters would hopefully still be able to be employed or self employed in other occupations after age 55), with a full pension to age 60 if the fire fighter works to age 60 (whether in front line or “back office” activities).

    • mm
      Eastleigh Xpress
      September 25, 2013 at 10:00 pm

      I personally doubt if the government can take the public with them on this – they may be better off looking for savings elsewhere.

  2. Sue
    September 26, 2013 at 9:13 am

    My argument re poor pensions in the private sector would be that those employees should join a union and fight back for a decent pension? If no one stands up to be counted then it will just be a race to the bottom with ever declining terms and conditions of employment, including the value of pensions.

    In the case of fire fighters I feel they should be considered a special case due to the extreme dangers they face. MPs (I believe) get a pension of about £22,000 after only about 15 years? There needs to be recognition of the dangers these people face reflected in a good pension available at a reasonable age (55)and a decent salery

  3. Kate
    September 27, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Whilst I emphasise with the firefighters, age 55 now a days is not really age 55 in terms of strength etc when these pension rights were written. I know lots of people aged 55 who are still more than capable, and continue to run marathons etc because the advancement of health and treatments means that they in effect have the bodies of somebody much younger when the pension age caps were introduced decades ago. Especially the case when they have worked for many years in physically demanding jobs so their fitness levels are higher than ‘the norm’. With the increase of people living until age 100+ (5 fold the number), we simply cannot pay people for over 40 years on fairly generous current pensions and not recognise that with the increase of age, then the duration of working must also reflect this. There has to be a trade off of either substantially reduced pension pay to let it strectch the 40+ years, or increasing the age of service significantly. This is perhaps a balance of the two?

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