Firefighters Begin 24 Hour Walkout

LFBFirefighters began a 24 hour strike today in the latest walkout of a three-year row with the government over pensions.

The government wants to raise the retirement age for all firefighters from 55 to 60 at the same time as increasing their pension contributions, plans which the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) say are ‘unfair and unaffordable’, and could lead to older firefighters failing fitness tests. As is standard practice in industrial disputes, the government disagrees, saying the strike is ‘disrupting constructive discussions’.

So what kind of pension deal do firefighters currently get? Well, the latest pension proposal actually only applies to the two-thirds of firefighters who are in the 1992 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme (FPS) and currently have a retirement age of 55. Anyone who joined the service after 2006 is enrolled in the New Firefighters’ Pension scheme (NFPS) which has a retirement age of 60.

FPS members’ pot accrues at 1/60th a year for the first 20 years, then 2/60ths to 30 years and there is a two-thirds final salary pension after 30 years. They can also retire at 50 if they’ve clocked up 25 years of service. Their contributions are 11% of salary while the fire brigade pays 24%. For NFPS members, the accrual doesn’t change until retirement at 60 on a two-thirds final salary scheme after 40 years. Their contributions are rather less generous — 8.5% of salary with their employer paying about 12%. A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said:

“Nearly three-quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015. Under the new scheme, a firefighter who earns £29,000 will still be able to retire after a full career aged 60 and get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. The equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.”

Let’s take a closer look at that, shall we? It would only be possible for a firefighter to retire on £19,000 per year if they’d worked continuously from the age of 20 to 60. Anyone forced to retire at 55 because of ill health would lose more than 47% of their pension, leaving them with just £9,000 per year. If they don’t retire at 55, they could face being dismissed for fitness reasons. A 2013 government review of firefighters’ pensions found that given the nature of the job, most would be unable to work to 60. So basically, the government is perfectly aware that the majority of firefighters would not receive the full £19,000 and want them to decide between being sacked over their fitness or accept a 47% loss on their pension for retiring earlier.

Pensions aren’t the only area where the fire brigade are being squeezed — last year, Boris Johnson engaged in a battle of wills with London’s Fire Authority (LFEPA) over  proposed station closures and a reorganisation of the service. In January this year, 10 London fire stations were closed.

The latest strike is the 12th in the three year dispute, but this is the first time firefighters will be on strike for a full 24 hours.  It also coincides with the start of the World Cup, and London Fire Brigade have issued pleas that people order takeaways rather than burn their house down after attempting to cook a late night meal while drunk.

The next strike is planned for Saturday 21 June starting at 10.00am and ending at 5.00pm.

Photo by Ken in the Londonist Flickr pool.

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  • realist

    9k plus the state pension is rather more than probably a large percentage of the population will have when they retire. Most will have to work way beyond 60. Their pension is funded by the tax payer. Not seeing the issue here, it still gives them an infinitely better position than most, save for the teachers, police and others than are funded in the same way. The world has changed.
    They will need to work longer like everyone else. Wake up and move on.

    • http://twitter.com/ralasdair Alasdair

      ‘Better than most’ isn’t the same as ‘good enough’. Why should they live in penury in old age just because other people gave up their pension rights?

      Not to mention, a firefighter working beyond 60 is rather different from people who spend their days sitting on their arses behind a desk (including yours truly!) who are quite capable of working to 65 or beyond.

      • realist

        I’m sure we would all like a better pension or indeed one that is ‘good enough’. Who exactly gave up what pension rights? Did they have a choice? The maths for council, civil service etc pensions never stacked up. People are living longer which compounds it further. Why do you think firefighters are any different to any other person ? They are not. We all get ill whether we sit at a desk or not. They can get another job just like all sorts of other people who find it more challenging as they get older.

        The world has changed. They need to change with it. Tell me what would happen if you went on strike because you weren’t happy ? P45 perhaps?

        All they are doing is abusing the fact they are a monopoly to their own advantage while putting people’s lives at risk by striking. Still feel for them?

        • joe

          Firefighters pay 4k a year in pension contributions…..what does the average person pay? A lot less I’m sure!!!

          • realist

            Thank you and there lies the point. It’s not enough compared to what they will likely take out especially if they retire early. It’s simply not sustainable. Why should tax payers top it up ? They need to wake up, smell the coffee and get back to work and do the job they signed up to do and realise the world has moved on.