Although many local people will be celebrating bonfire night this evening, firefighters are out on strike and manning picket lines
They are joining thousands of colleagues nationally after negotiations over proposed changes to their pension arrangements broke down.
The firefighters say they are upset that the proposed pension reforms will see them working till 60, on inferior terms and at extra cost to their pay packets.
The strike which started at 6.30 this evening is set to last till 11pm.
Earlier Eastleigh News spoke to a Fire Brigades Union Rep on the picket line at Redbridge.
Nigel Blight is a firefighter with 24 years’ service who said he joined the service because it was “a vocation, a steady job with good benefits” adding “no one does it for the money”.
But although he has made plans for retirement he says the government have ‘moved the goalposts’, not only by expecting them to work longer but by also changing the lump sum benefits firefighters could expect on retirement. Nigel said that he, like many other union members had planned on using a lump retirement sum to pay off their mortgages but this might not happen now.
“I’m worried I might now have to work until I’m 60 and at 60 it is dangerous to be fire fighting”
“I could end up doing 30 years in the job and then be invalided out with a dodgy knee and no pension.”
The Fire Brigades Minister has stated that firefighters that become unfit for front line duty could be found a desk job but Nigel said that a recent FBU survey found no redeployment posts in Hampshire and only 16 posts nationwide.
Nigel said he was already paying over £300 per month in pension contributions and feared this was likely to rise under the new scheme – he was also concerned that in future there could a further deterioration in benefits like death-in-service provision and widows pensions.
Reacting to comments by some Conservative back bench MPs that the firefighters union were “recklessly holding the public to ransom” Blight said government members were trying to put pressure on firefighters.
“We are aware that public safety is being compromised but the last thing you want is to find yourself being carried down a ladder by a 60 year old guy whose knee could suddenly give out.”
Blight said it is the government who is “gambling with public safety.”
He also warned that the resolve of his colleagues was hardening and they were prepared to take further action.
“At first they were worried about taking action but this has changed now they have seen how intransigent the government is. They feel they are vindicated because the government won’t address their problems”.
The FBU are due to hold another stoppage on Monday from 6am to 8am.
In a statement released by freighter’s employers Hampshire Fire and Rescue, Assistant Chief Officer Neil Odin said:
“We are prepared for the industrial action. We will once again strive to provide a safe level of cover for the county as we did during the previous industrial action, managing to maintain around 50% of the fire appliances that we would normally have available.
“But inevitably there is going to be an impact on our usual response times. With the forthcoming celebrations around bonfire night and Diwali, I would urge the public to be especially careful with fireworks and candles to help reduce unnecessary calls.”
“There are many well organised firework displays in the county this November. We would recommend attending one instead of a celebration at home. If you still intend to have your own bonfire party always follow the Firework Code.”
The Service is asking the public to only call 999 if there is a genuine need for a fire engine as it will need to prioritise calls where a life may be at risk or someone needs to be rescued.
“If you do have a fire, our advice remains to get out of the house, stay out and call 999.”
Commenting on the failure of negotiations Nigel Blight said:
“I think the government are ill advised in pursuing these proposals; if they understood the job they wouldn’t be asking 60 year olds to do it.”
“ What they are doing is asking 60 year-old firefighters to perform like 25 year-olds.”