Lancashire firefighters keep pension fight burning

Fight on: firefighters attending a Fire Brigades Union rally

Fight on: firefighters attending a Fire Brigades Union rally

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Firefighters on industrial dispute in Lancashire for a second consecutive year are more determined than ever to force a Government U-turn over pensions, according to a union official.

Steve Harman insists there are no cracks showing in fire stations in the county, despite a lack of progress during 15 months of industrial action.

In fact, he says, attitudes have hardened, especially after MPs turned their backs on crews in Parliament recently and voted to go ahead with a highly controversial reform of fire service pensions due in April.

“The Government are playing a game, saying it’s all done and dusted now,” said Mr Harman, the Lancashire Fire Brigade Union secretary. “But it isn’t over by any means for the firefighters. We can’t accept something so grossly unfair and unsafe. Instead of losing heart after the vote in Parliament, our members are now more determined than ever to keep going.”

After the Commons debate, which the Government won 313-261, the FBU executive vowed to continue the battle against the changes which require firefighters to work until they are 60 - something they claim is dangerous for both frontline staff and the public.

The union cites the case of a 54-year-old firefighter stationed at Fulwood who last month passed the rigorous fitness test demanded within the service, only to suffer a heart attack two weeks later after a strenuous training session.

“That’s the concern,” said Mr Harman. “If that had happened in a fire he would be dead. And probably so too would the person he was trying to save.”

Before the vote the union had called 48 strikes between September 2013 and a 24-hour walkout on December 9 this year. Amongst those were a series of short actions last Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

Most firefighters are so far estimated to have lost between £1,000 and £1,500 in wages during the dispute, but many remain steadfast.

“Last Christmas the main emotion on the picket line was anger - a lot of it anger at those within our industry who weren’t supporting us,” explained Steve Harman. “But this year it is much more frustration than anger.

“A year on we are still quite solid. We have overwhelming support from firefighters and I would hope from the public too. After all it is the public who will ultimately lose out.

“The service is in absolute meltdown because of all the cuts we have had to face. And we could potentially have to find another £6.8m of savings over the next two to three years. We have already lost one third of frontline posts. Yet the Government are sitting there and pontificating that they know best.

“It is disappointing that MPs have voted to go ahead with these changes. So my advice to the public would be to seriously consider who they vote for next May.”

The FBU claim Lancashire has lost around one third of its frontline firefighters due to £10m of Government austery measures and stand to lose even more if further cuts are demanded.

The county has lost two fire engines in Hyndburn and Padiham and is set to lose a third in Lancaster. And of the 58 engines remaining, 32 are staffed by crews on call from home, 15 are manned by crews working an 84-hour week and only 11 are on a “normal” 42-hour week.