Region 3 Fire Brigades Union

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Coalition MP's not supporting local firefighters

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Coaliton MP's voting record in House of Commons debate on Firefighter Pensions

Despite much rhetoric from local Coalition Government MP’s in the lead up to the Firefighter Pensions debate in the House of Commons on Monday 15th December, there was a clear demonstration on whether they support local firefighters or not.

All Labour MP’s signed EDM 454 and voted in support of a fair resolution to the long running pensions dispute, the same cannot be said for the coalition MP’s.

Sir Alan Beith, MP for Berwick did participate in the debate on Monday, despite his input he made the decision not to vote either way.

James Wharton, Guy Opperman and Ian Swales all voted against the proposal supporting our fight to have the Pension regulations annulled, this action clearly demonstrates a lack of support for local firefighters in our campaign for a fair, workable and sustainable pension scheme fit for the future of the fire service and those that work in it.

We would now encourage constituents of these MP's to contact them asking what their justification was for voting against a fair resolution to the disbute as clearly the debate in the House was won in favour of the firefighters.

The debate can be found in Hansard at the link below;

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141215/debindx/141215-x.htm

 

 

 

House of Commons Pension Debate

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North East Labour Politicians  support Firefighters

North East Labour politicans supported firefighters in their fight for a fair outcome to the long running pensions dispute during the debate in the House of Commons on Monday 15th December. A number of North East politicains were called to speak including Dave Anderson (MP for Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (MP for Wansbeck), others wished to speak including Grahame Morris, below is the speech Grahame wanted to make on our behalf however was not called by the Speaker of the House;

As a member of the FBU Parliamentary Group I wanted to make a contribution during Monday’s Firefighters Pension debate but was not called by the Speaker.

These are the comments I wanted to make as part of the debate

I am proud to stand here today in defence of our fire and rescue service, and to thank all firefighters for what they do for our communities.

As we know all too well, they are often the difference between life and death in emergency situations.

No one wants industrial action, but I have had no hesitation in joining firefighters in my constituency on picket lines as they fight for a fair pension settlement and to safeguard public and firefighter safety.

There had been signs of optimism, especially when the Fire Minster, (Hon. Mem. For Portsmouth North) wrote to all firefighters in August promising:

“My goal is clear to get the best deal possible for firefighters and resolve this dispute.”

However, since taking up her new role in July, the offer on the table is exactly the same as that of her predecessor, this will result in firefighters paying more, receiving less, and will risk public and firefighters safety.

We are here today Mr Speaker because This Government has continuously refused to deal fairly with our firefighters.

In devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, a fair deal has been negotiated between firefighters and the governments in those parts of the UK.

In Scotland and Wales it has been agreed that pensions will be reduced by 9% with the pension age being 55 years. Contrast that in England, where this government wants firefighter’s pensions reduced by 21.8% ­ nearly a quarter Mr Speaker, and increase the retirement age to 60yo.

Yet even the government’s own evidence on the physical demands of firefighting state this will not work.

Their own report highlights over 60% of firefighters aged 55-60 would be unlikely to meet the fitness standard used by most fire services and would therefore be unlikely to be able to achieve the new normal pension age of 60.

Not only are the government’s proposals ill-thought out and unworkable because of the unachievable levels of fitness firefighters are expected to maintain, but they directly discriminate against female firefighters.

The same report shows that all female firefighters will not meet the fitness standards and therefore be effectively drummed out of their job.

Only Elite Women Athletes will have the remotest chance of meeting these requirements.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have recognised this, why not the bench opposite?

This is a recipe for a diminished service, and threat to public safety. If firefighters are unable to achieve the required fitness standards what will happen?

They cannot be re-deployed – only 16 non-operational roles were available across the whole of England in 2012.

It will mean firefighters are forced to leave the service without a fair pension, after a career of service to their community.

On top of all of this firefighters are being asked to do more with less.

Figures published this year by DCLG in my own area, where we have seen multimillion-pound cuts, show brigades across the region have seen some of the biggest increases in fire call outs. My own fire service, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service saw the second highest rise in call-out figures. Call outs increased by 35.7%, from 2,496 to 3,388.

Mr Speaker, more than 300 full-time firefighters roles have been lost in the North-East in the last four years. Durham and Darlington FRS has lost 49 firefighters. Even with the hiring of more backroom staff and some ‘on-call’ roles it means my local service is down 4.1% from 2010 figures and this is expected to double.

It is even worse for other North-East brigades – Tyne and Wear FRS has been reduced by 18.4%.

In fact recent plans put forward by my local brigade proposes training firefighters to deal with medical emergencies, including heart attacks, bleeding, breathing difficulties, trauma and strokes. Firefighters also have to deal with increased flooding and other risks, including helping in other parts of the country as we saw in the West Country and the South East of England

Yet to meet cuts imposed centrally, the same plan has local fire stations being staffed part-time and overall staff reductions.

This means the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was and will only get worse.

It means people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.

Mr Speaker I expect the Tories to reject today’s motion, it is clear that the members opposite (with a few notable exceptions) support a race to the bottom in terms of wages, conditions and pensions across the public sector.

However, the Liberal Democrats declare they are different to the Tories. The number of engineered disagreements with their Coalition partner continue to rise on a daily basis as we approach the election campaign and they seek to find a degree of separation from a toxic legacy.

Well, today is an opportunity to provide more than warm words.

Today they can show the British People that on issues such as we are discussing in this debate, they are willing to stand and be counted, literally, when they walk through the lobby to vote to support this nations firefighters.

The success or failure of this motion will largely depend on the Liberal Democrats. I implore you to show that your disagreement with the Government is genuine and have the principle to stand up on the side of real working people and support our firefighters so they can achieve a fair pension settlement as well as safeguarding the health and safety of all of us and firefighters themselves.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 12:22
 

Pensions Debate in House of Commons

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Firefighter pensions: Debate In House of Commons

FBU members will have been following closely the work around Early Day Motion 454 and the following debate in the House of Commons. It is important for our campaign to carefully review at every stage what has happened and what steps have been taken by our opponents. The Executive Council is currently engaged in this process. Throughout this campaign, our case has been based on a careful and thorough examination of the evidence and a careful and thorough exposure of the flaws in the case made by government. You will appreciate the need for accuracy in this process.

EDM 454

Public service pension schemes are established through secondary legislation (Statutory Instruments). It is very difficult to challenge this process through parliament. Nevertheless, with the assistance of the FBU Parliamentary Group, we identified a mechanism by means of the ‘prayer’ and the Early Day Motion.

  • EDM454 was initially sponsored and supported only by members of the FBU Parliamentary Group.
  • We then convinced Labour Shadow Ministers on Local Government and Fire (Hilary Benn and Lyn Brown) to give support.
  • We were then able to convince Ed Miliband to support and become the primary sponsor. This enabled us to win the signatures and support of the vast majority of Labour MPs.
  • At the same time we lobbied and campaigned so that eventually every other opposition party had supporters of EDM 454.
  • We also won the support of 22 Liberal Democrats (of which more later).

It was this that laid the basis for the demand for a debate and vote. This call was made in good time and prior to the end of the legislative process. The call was made by Hilary Benn in a letter to Penny Mordaunt. There was no guarantee that the government would agree to or grant such a debate.

Lobbying by FBU members

FBU members have engaged in an outstanding lobbying campaign during this period. This has included lobbying at local level, by letter, email and phone call and by large numbers attending the House of Commons regularly for several weeks. The extent of this lobbying effort has been noted across the board by politicians in parliament. It has impressed many and has significantly rattled our opponents.

A significant feature of this lobbying by FBU members has been that many have refused to accept the simplistic and inaccurate responses provided by MPs to the questions asked. It became clear to firefighters that there was absolutely nothing to fear from talking to or challenging MPs on these issues since firefighters are far more familiar with the evidence and with the reality of our occupation than any MP, Minister or civil servant. This lobbying activity should continue and MPs should continue to be asked for support – or to be challenged over the arguments.

Debate in House of Commons

The government agreed to hold the debate on Monday 15 December. The House of Commons was attended by hundreds of firefighters in uniform. MPs are simply not used to being observed, scrutinised and challenged in this way. It was clearly uncomfortable for many. Throughout the debate both the current Fire Minister and her predecessor, refused to even glance in the direction of the 150 uniformed firefighters sitting in the public gallery.  Many, many more were unable to gain access and watched the debate in a venue arranged by the union nearby.

It is important to note that there were several developments during the day or shortly following, apart from the debate.

  • A written ministerial statement was made on the issues of pensions, fitness and capability.
  • Correspondence was sent to the opposition on the same issue.
  • The Department (DCLG) finalised its response to a public consultation on: Firefighter fitness standards and assessment.

We are now assessing all of these. You will appreciate the need for thoroughness and accuracy. All documents and statements will be analysed for accuracy and for contradictions. We will assess the claims made and any promises given in the House of Commons. The process of holding government Ministers to account is not remotely over. Claims made may also have implications for consideration by our lawyers in relation to legal challenges which we are finalising.

The vote

You will be aware that the vote was won by the government by 313 votes to 261. It was noted that the highest number of MPs on the government benches during the debate was 43. Despite this, 313 of them were apparently well enough ‘informed’ to turn out to vote for the government attack on our pensions.

Some powerful points were made during the debate and firefighters will want to thank those who spoke up for us, including a number of longstanding friends and allies. This included leading members of the FBU Parliamentary Group, including Secretary and Chair, John McDonnell MP and Kate Hoey MP. The importance of our Parliamentary Group was demonstrated by the whole process.  The Hansard report of the debate can be found via the parliamentary website below and then following the subject heading “Firefighters’ Pension Scheme (England)”. Please note that this is the second reference to firefighter pensions during the afternoon’s business:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm141215/debindx/141215-x.htm

We are currently analysing the vote and will report on this in a further circular or bulletin. However, FBU members will be shocked and alarmed that six Liberal Democrats who supported EDM 454 subsequently voted for the government. These were Duncan Hames, John Hemming, Mark Hunter, Ian Swales, Mike Thornton and David Ward. No doubt our members will be speaking to them to ask why this happened.

Further analysis of the vote will follow.

Approaching General Election

We are now just five months away from a General Election. This is a chance to challenge those politicians who have attacked our pensions, our jobs and our Service as well as overseeing the worst fall in workers’ living standards in recent history.

FBU members should note that the pension regulations being introduced for 2015 can be amended. Modern pensions for firefighters were first introduced in 1947, after years of campaigning by the FBU and after the experiences of firefighting during the Second World War. The FBU subsequently campaigned for and won various improvements in pension arrangements; survivor benefits, ill-health and injury benefits, improved commutation arrangements etc. We shall continue to do so.

One highly significant development has been winning official Labour Party support to oppose the regulations. We shall now ask Ed Miliband and his team to be clear about what their position would be if they form a government after May. In this process, the continued campaigning of FBU members will again be vital.

Assessing the situation and next steps

It is clear to anyone who watched the debate or who reads the transcript, that the government lost the argument. Indeed, nobody apart from the Minister even attempted to make the case for the government position. The lack of understanding of the issues from the government benches was truly shocking and FBU members will have had their eyes opened about some of the failures of the system of scrutiny and accountability.

The Executive Council has started the process of reviewing the situation in the light of the debate. However, you are asked to note that this requires some considerable work and discussion, including with our pension advisors, our lawyers and with various politicians.

Members are asked to note:

Nothing in the debate or vote in the House of Commons alters the lawful status of our trade dispute – including whatever further industrial action is called. That is solely a matter for our members. It is none of the business of Ministers, other politicians or Chief Fire Officers. Anyone who wants a say in what the FBU does in our campaign – should submit an application form for membership which will be considered by the local Branch and the Brigade Committee.

Arrangements are being made for further urgent meetings of the Executive Council to be convened as soon as possible. In addition:

  • The Executive Council asked for an updated report to be prepared on the current status of our legal challenges and for this report to be brought to the next meeting of the Executive Council.
  • Executive Council members will also be meeting with local committees to discuss our next steps.
  • Further information and analysis regarding the House of Commons debate will be issued as soon as possible.
  • The action short of strike previously notified remains in place for (non-Control) members in England, Scotland and Wales. This and other options for industrial action will be considered at the next meeting of the Executive Council. Members are asked to ensure that local officials are aware of the views of all Branches.
  • The Executive Council agreed to put in place arrangements for a recall of the union’s Conference in the New Year. Details will follow.

FBU members can be extremely proud of the work done during this phase of our campaign.  Our message to those politicians who oppose us is that we have won the arguments, we remain determined and our fight goes on.

Stand together.

Yours in unity

MATT WRACK

GENERAL SECRETARY

 

Northumberland council support firefighters in battle for fair pensions

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Northumberland council support firefighters in battle for fair pensions

 

Northumberland County Council passed a motion this past Wednesday urging the Westminster government to negotiate a fair settlement in the long running firefighters’ pension dispute.

The motion, put forward by Cllr Terry Johnstone, was voted in favour of by 41 – 0, whilst 14 councillors abstained.

Negotiations are still taking place in Scotland and Wales as the devolved governments consult on revised pension offers, however firefighters in England are preparing to take strike action as the Westminster government try to force through unfair and unworkable pension regulations. 

Guy Tiffin, FBU brigade official, said: “This is a clear statement by Northumberland council. If the devolved governments of the UK can all genuinely negotiate on pensions and avoid strike action, then Westminster can do the same.

“Firefighters in England have been forced into strike action as Westminster are not listening, are robbing our pensions and do not want to see firefighters get a fire service pension that is appropriate to the occupation.

“It is entirely in the hands of the Westminster government to end this dispute and make a fair offer to firefighters in England.”

Terry Johnstone, Labour councillor for Bedlington West, said: “We, the people of Northumberland, have come to rely on the bravery, professionalism and steadfastness of our fire & rescue service in times of need.

“Now in their time of need, the responsibility falls to us to come to the aid of our brave firefighters, before their rights at work and their pensions go up in smoke.”

As a result of the motion Northumberland council will write to Westminster fire minister Penny Mordaunt urging her to listen to common sense and make a fair, revised offer to firefighters.

Firefighters in England will strike for 24 hours from 9:00 on Tuesday 9 December in protest over plans that will see 60 year old firefighters forced to serve on the frontline, despite government evidence stating most would be unfit to do so, and if they fail mandatory fitness tests from age 55 they would lose a huge amount of their pension.

Ends

For more information, contact the press office on 02084 811 505 (will divert) or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Notes

1. For national spokespeople contact the press office via the details above

2. For local and regional spokespeople, please contact officials directly via the ‘About us’ and ‘Local contacts’ menus at www.fbu.org.uk

3. High res photos of spokespeople and other images that may be useful editorially are available at http://bit.ly/FBUphoto
5. Firefighters have one of the most expensive pension schemes in either the private or public sector paying £4000 annually from a wage of just over £29,000.
6. The Governments own evidence shows that two thirds of 55-60 year olds would be unable to pass the firefighter fitness test. (Dr Tony Williams report, 2013http://bit.ly/1tUbAg2)
7. If a firefighter fails this fitness test, they could face dismissal and a severely reduced pension.
8. Research by the British Heart Foundation shows firefighters are more likely to suffer from a heart attack whilst on duty then at any other time, most likely as a result of heat and different stresses whilst fighting fires.
10. The Northern Ireland government have kept the normal pension age for firefighters at 55.
11. The Welsh government are currently consulting on a flexible retirement age option.
12. Progress is being made in Scotland over a protection for firefighters meaning they cannot be fired for naturally declining fitness though age – DCLG refuses to adopt a similar option to protect firefighters.

 

Industrial Action

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TO:     ALL MEMBERS

Dear Brother/Sister

Industrial action: PENSIONS IN THE FIRE SERVICE

Previously some members have been informed of action short of strike which they had been called upon to undertake.  This action short of strike shall continue until 09:00 hrs on 9 December 2014.

As the person authorised to make the call for industrial action I now confirm that this discontinuous industrial action will commence and terminate at the times and on the dates specified below:

Commencing 9 December 2014 from 09:00 hrs until 10 December 2014 at 09:00 hrs, strike action (firefighters in England).

Commencing 9 December 2014 from 09:00 hrs until further notice, industrial action short of a strike (firefighters and Control members in Scotland and Wales).

Commencing 10 December 2014 from 09:00 hrs until further notice, industrial action short of a strike (firefighters and Control members (except North West Fire Control Ltd members) in England).

The industrial action short of a strike you are called to take on these dates and times is as set out below:

  • Not participating in exhibition or competition drills or events.
  • Not participating in duties associated with Marauding Terrorism and Firearm Attacks (MTFA) incidents.
  • During periods of strike action being taken by FBU members, FBU members in a non-striking Fire and Rescue Service should not cross borders to work in a Fire and Rescue Service where FBU members are taking strike action or in a Fire and Rescue Service where the employer is not recognising partial performance.
  • A refusal to undertake voluntary overtime, non-contractual overtime or additional voluntary hours.

The various options for action short of strike will be kept under review and may be subject to change.

Please ensure all members are made aware of this circular and continue to discuss options for this and any future industrial action which may be necessary.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

MATT WRACK

GENERAL SECRETARY

MW/JM/sll

 
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