30 January 2014
TO: ALL MEMBERS
Pensions: ongoing discussions
The Executive Council met on Wednesday 29 January in order to hear reports of discussions regarding pensions. These have primarily involved DCLG officials and the DCLG Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, although dialogue also continues with Ministers and Government officials in other parts of the UK. Of particular significance is the decision of the Northern Ireland Assembly to agree a different legal framework for the Normal Pension Age (NPA) for firefighters. We do not yet know the final detailed outcome of this in terms of pension regulations. Discussion will now need to take place regarding the details for the future structure of firefighter pensions in Northern Ireland. Further information will be provided as discussions develop.
National Officials met with Brandon Lewis and his team on 22 and 28 January. Additional exchanges and meetings have taken place with actuaries and legal teams from both sides to look at a number of specific issues.
The upshot of the meetings is that Brandon Lewis and his team have suggested that Government can provide a firm guarantee which will address the Union's No Job No Pension concerns. You will recall that the FBU has previously provided legal opinion that suggests the simplest route for any guarantee would be through pension scheme regulations. The Union has provided a draft wording for such a regulation.
However, the DCLG team have been adamant that a sufficiently robust guarantee can be provided through the National Framework document and supportive guidance including, if necessary, a statement in Parliament. Discussions with Employers are also continuing to explore the potential for an NJC agreement on this issue. If this approach were adopted, the FBU would need to consider the implications for members working in all parts of the UK.
Union negotiators have made clear that, at this stage, the FBU remains unconvinced about the route suggested by the Minister. However, the Union would, of course, consider any written proposal the Minister may make on this issue. FBU negotiators have made clear that any such proposal would be carefully scrutinised by our legal advisors as FBU members would need to have confidence that their interests were being adequately protected against the threat of capability dismissals due to age-related decline in fitness. The Union is currently discussing the implications of these discussions with our legal advisors and the Executive Council will consider the advice received in due course.
Other proposals being discussed may address some of the other concerns around the ability of firefighters to work until 60 and some options are being explored by the actuaries for each side. This discussion involves various very complex figures and financial assumptions around the future costs of firefighter pensions. These figures will need further exploration and verification and a detailed report will be provided as the issue develops.
The FBU negotiating team explained to the Executive Council some of the challenges and stressed that much of this work was of a very technical nature and had required the assistance of lawyers and actuaries from both sides.
The Executive Council was keen to see detailed proposals in writing and this view has been immediately reported to DCLG negotiators. A further report on any subsequent developments will be given to the next meeting of the Executive Council (4th – 6th February).
A further meeting with Brandon Lewis has been arranged for 11th February and the Executive Council will meet again the following day. Other meetings are also being scheduled with legal advisors, actuaries and officials from both sides. The Executive Council re-emphasised that FBU members would need to see clear and understandable proposals and would need to be confident that any such proposals had been tested by the relevant advisors (legal and actuarial).
Lobbying on contributions
The Executive Council also agreed submissions to the public consultation on employee contribution increases in Wales and in Northern Ireland. These will be placed on the FBU website in due course. A similar response will also be required for Scotland. Members are again asked to support the Union's lobbying campaign to oppose these further increases. Details of how this can be done are available through the Union's website.
Once again, on behalf of the Executive Council I would like to thank all members for your involvement and support throughout this campaign. It is your determination which has ensured that we have been able to continue campaigning and pressing for improvements and for pension arrangements which take proper account of the demands of the firefighters' occupation. The Executive Council continues to examine all avenues and all options in our campaign to win improvements for the benefit of all members.