No end in sight: Manchester fire-fighters prepare to strike again as pay and pension battle burns on

Fire-fighters across Greater Manchester will down their hoses again next weekend in the latest chapter of its three-year stand-off with the government.

Beginning in 2011, the tensions centre on the ever-increasing proportion of fire-fighters’ pay that goes towards their pensions.

The action, which will be in effect from 10am-5pm on June 21, follows a union demonstration held yesterday in Piccadilly Gardens amid a 24-hour service strike.

Gary Keary, the FBU’s Greater Manchester Brigade Secretary, commended the show of solidarity demonstrated by union members.

“It was superb,” he said. “It was strongly supported across the brigade and almost 300 of our members showed up.”

However, despite the turnout, Mr Keary added that the FBU had not had any response from the government.

Other than the duration, next Saturday’s walkout is predicted to be similar to yesterday’s strike – which was the longest yet in a series of FBU actions – though the union expects this one will induce a reaction from the authorities.

DIRECT ACTION: Yesterday’s strike was the longest in this on-going tussle

“I imagine the government will speak to us during that action,” said Mr Keary. “The council will meet at some point next week to discuss what to do and hopefully it will be a good outcome for us.”

In addition to yesterday’s and next Saturday’s actions, the FBU’s thirteenth and fourteenth strike concerning pensions since September, fire-fighters will not be carrying out any voluntary overtime from June 12-22.

Standing at 11% of an average £29,000-a-year salary before 2010, in April the rate rose for the third consecutive year to 14.2% – working out at around £4,000.

The growing ratio means many fire-fighters are being forced to opt out of the pension scheme amid concerns over its affordability and whether or not it is sustainable.

Another contentious issue is the government’s proposal of cutting the pensions of fire-fighters who retire before the age of 60 in half, on which it has showed no signs of backing down.

However, the proposal conflicts with a government report published in December 2013 that found many fire-fighters would be unable to maintain operational fitness up to the age of 60

If passed, the plan will become effective in 2015, with the FBU saying the only alternative for its members is facing the sack.

ACTION: Most of the tensions centre on salary and pensions

One of the union’s demands is that fire minister Brandon Lewis takes part in a national televised debate with FBU members in order to resolve the issue.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, believes Mr Lewis should step into the public arena to discuss the proposals, which the union has branded as unfair, unworkable and unaffordable.

“The government is ignoring all the evidence from its own reports on these proposals and has failed to counter our arguments in three years of negotiations,” he said.

“Their attacks will radically damage the fire and rescue service and it’s only fair that the public are given a chance to see the minister himself challenged over these ludicrous proposals.

“It’s time for the government’s spin to end. If he’s confident in his arguments, surely he’ll accept the opportunity for us to both lay our cases out in public.”

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