Region 3 Fire Brigades Union

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Pensions - delay after delay

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CIRCULAR 2014HOC0583MW                                                          

16 October 2014

TO: ALL MEMBERS

Dear Brother/Sister,

PENSIONS: DELAY AFTER DELAY – THE LONG WAIT FOR A RESPONSE FROM DCLG

The Executive Council yesterday discussed the ongoing pension dispute. There is understandable frustration across the union at the numerous delays from DCLG in announcing whether they are in a position to provide revised proposals on pensions or not.

Pension regulations

The next stage of the government process is to lay draft regulations before Parliament. FBU officials have already discussed with the FBU Parliamentary group what steps can be taken in Parliament to oppose the government at this stage. At that point in the process, FBU members may be asked again to contact local MPs for support on this issue. Further information and advice will follow.

We have also made it very clear previously to all members, to local FRAs and to the government that the laying of regulations does not in any way end our trade dispute or remove our ability to take lawful industrial action. We have set out from the start of our campaign that this battle may need to continue up to the general election – and beyond.

Groundhog Day: Delays in the process

It is clear that there are time pressures on DCLG to make progress in introducing the regulations for new pension schemes across the public sector. The original plan for this within DCLG was to start the process by mid-August. This was then changed to the week commencing 8 September. It was then changed to week commencing 13 October. Then changed again to week commencing 20 October. Late last week, it was changed yet again to week commencing 27 October. By any measure this is an embarrassing number of delays for a Minister who assured firefighters in an open letter that the discussion would be concluded by 8 September. Even so, DCLG haS verbally informed us that they are still not sure when within that week they are likely to be in a position to lay the regulations. Nevertheless, it does appear that a response will finally be forthcoming from Penny Mordaunt within the next week.

These delays are extremely frustrating for all FBU members. However, the delays appear to reflect some disarray on the part of DCLG. FBU members are aware that we have considered various legal challenges and are actively pursuing one such challenge at present. In response, lawyers acting for the Secretary of State have argued that any legal action at this stage would be premature, as no final decision has been made by government on the issue under (legal) dispute. Clearly, once any regulation is laid, such an argument could not be maintained any longer and the legal action could commence. It is not clear what steps the government will take next, but it does seem clear that the threat of this particular legal action has caused a great deal of debate within government and dialogue between DCLG and HM Treasury.

Next steps from DCLG

FBU officials are currently arranging a further meeting with Penny Mordaunt, and plans are in place for the Executive Council to meet again next week. In view of the excessive delays already and the pressure on DCLG to make progress on introducing new pension regulations, it appears likely that this next meeting will finally provide some answers as to what DCLG have actually been doing (or not doing) for the past month. Nevertheless, we do not know precisely what will be said at this next meeting. The Executive Council identified three broad possibilities:-

  1. An announcement of yet another delay. (This outcome is possibly less likely due to the pressure on DCLG to conclude the process and due to the numerous delays already made).
  2. An announcement that there are revised proposals which they now intend to implement. (This could be done a variety of ways and some would clearly be more favourable to FBU members than others).
  3. An announcement that the proposals as currently set out are to be implemented without amendment.

Penny Mordaunt has stated clearly to FBU negotiators and to firefighters (through her open letters) that she has been reconsidering the issues under dispute. She stated that additional work needed to be done and discussion needed to be had with other parts of government. She originally claimed this should all be concluded by 8 September. Then in a letter of 8 September she stated that her goal “is to get the best deal possible for firefighters and to resolve this dispute”. Those words clearly suggest that the best possible deal is not the deal currently proposed (i.e. that to resolve the dispute would need different proposals). No doubt many FBU members welcomed these words which seemed to suggest the possibility of a way forward. Nevertheless, we have been clear that there is no guarantee that any revised proposals will be made. So the question remains whether she will or will not present different proposals at the next meeting. This will also mean that the Minister and her team will need to have discussed and concluded discussions with others in government – especially HM Treasury.

The Executive Council is clear that we need to prepare for each eventuality. This inevitably includes the possibility for further strike action. While we hope this is avoidable, members are nevertheless urged to be prepared for all the possible outcomes following our next meeting with Penny Mordaunt and our assessment of that at the next meeting of the Executive Council.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally,

MATT WRACK

General Secretary

 

Pensions Update following EC meeting on 3rd October 2014

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CIRCULAR: 2014HOC0560MW                                                          

3 October 2014

TO:          ALL MEMBERS

Dear Brother/Sister

Pensions: No revised proposals; government agrees to delay laying of pension regulations for a third time

The Executive Council met today and heard reports from various meetings which have taken place on different aspects of pensions. The meetings/discussions which have taken place since the Executive Council last met have included:

  • Meetings and other discussions between FBU officials and officials of DCLG.
  • A further meeting was held with DCLG Fire Minister, Penny Mordaunt on Wednesday 1st October.
  • Separate discussions and meetings around the issue of fitness and capability with FBU officials, officials from DCLG and the Fire Service Employers.
  • Discussions between lawyers from the FBU and DCLG on various issues

The Executive Council was informed that no revised proposals have been presented by DCLG. The Fire Minister did inform the FBU that she was still considering the issues we have raised and was still discussing all her options with her Department. The Fire Minister was informed very clearly at the meeting on 1 October of the frustration among FBU members which had arisen because of the further delays and in view of her previous assurance that work by DCLG (including discussions elsewhere in Government) would be concluded by the week commencing 8 September.

As previously reported to members, any revised proposals from DCLG will need discussion and sign-off elsewhere (by HM Treasury) and it appears that discussions between DCLG and HM Treasury are still under way. While this is extremely frustrating, it does suggest that there may be attempts being made to revise the current (unacceptable) proposals.

As a result of this delay – caused by DCLG – FBU officials had again raised the issue of DCLG plans regarding the laying of new pension regulations. You will recall that the timetable for this has already been delayed twice. As a result of the concerns raised, Penny Mordaunt has once again put back the laying of regulations; this time until at least 20 October. She has subsequently confirmed this in writing. The Executive Council, although frustrated on other matters, acknowledged that this move was welcome and was essential if DCLG were serious about dialogue continuing. This further delay does not assist DCLG in making progress on the introduction of the proposed new pension and does clearly allow the possibility (but not guarantee) of further changes being made.

The Executive Council is well aware of the frustrations of members. FBU members will recognise the likelihood that, if any revised proposals are made, DCLG will try to make them as minimal as possible. Therefore it is the task of FBU negotiators to try to maximise any changes to the benefit of FBU members. In these discussions, negotiators continue to press for changes in all aspects of the attacks on our pensions.

The current discussions are the longest period of continuous dialogue for some time and some may take this as a positive sign. However, the Executive Council is well aware of the risk surrounding these discussions and is clear that no progress is made until revised proposals are made. At that point, it would be for members to consider any such changes. It is also entirely possible that DCLG, for whatever reasons, does not make such revision and simply continues with the current attack on our pensions in exactly the same form. In such circumstances, members should be ready for the continuation of our fight by every means available, political legal – and of course industrial.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

MATT WRACK

General Secretary

 

Update on Pensions following EC Meeting on 17th September

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Update from the Executive Council meeting 17 September 2014
 
 
The Executive Council has met this week for a quarterly business meeting. The meeting also addressed the issue of the ongoing dispute and negotiations around pensions.
 
Recent weeks have seen a series of meeting with government about pensions. The most significant of these have been with DCLG Minister, Penny Mordaunt and her team. At the most recent of these, Penny Mordaunt suggested areas where significant progress might be made. FBU officials  subsequently sought additional advice from legal and actuarial advisors on these issues and further discussions have proceeded with DCLG officials. Some of these issues are complex and specialist advice is necessary to ensure the rights of FBU members are properly considered.
 
The Executive Council  finished early to allow negotiators to meet again with DCLG civil servants tomorrow (18 September). A meeting is also planned for the following week between FBU officials, representatives of the fire service employers and DCLG officials. These will be followed by a further meeting with Penny Mordaunt. Further dialogue with DCLG today has confirmed that additional meetings will be scheduled  over the next few days if necessary.
 
The DCLG Minister has reiterated her commitment to seek to offer the best possible arrangements for firefighter pensions. In order to maintain dialogue, she has again confirmed her position that no steps will be taken to introduce new pension regulations until after 13 October at the earliest. As previously explained, this is a delay of two months in relation to the original DCLG plans. The Executive Council have concluded that this is a welcome step by the Minister and opens up time and an opportunity for progress if government are so willing.
 
The Executive Council concluded that the current round of discussions had marked an improvement in dialogue between the two sides and could provide an opportunity for negotiations to provide improvements in key areas for the benefit of FBU members. The Executive Council, having reviewed recent discussion, decided that the current round of talks offered the best opportunity for a considerable number of months to make progress on pensions. For this reason, and after careful consideration, the Executive Council has not named further strike dates at present.
 
The Executive Council is aware that it is difficult and frustrating for members, especially when the full details of negotiations cannot be divulged. However, the aim of the Executive Council is to obtain improved proposals for consideration by members.  In this regard, it is important not to underestimate the importance of the Fire Minister’s decision not to proceed with the original DCLG timetable for the laying of the new pension regulations.
 
Obviously all FBU members would wish to avoid further industrial action if possible. However, such action  may be necessary and the Executive Council is clear that all discussions will be planned so at to take account of this potential need. The Executive council will therefore schedule regular meetings so as to review progress or otherwise and take any appropriate action.
 

Ring of Fire

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Pensions - Meetings with DCLG Fire Minister

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CIRCULAR:  2014HOC0507MW                                                                   

3 September 2014

TO   ALL MEMBERS

Dear Brother/Sister

PENSIONS : MEETINGS WITH DCLG FIRE MINISTER

FBU members will be aware that a meeting took place with Penny Mordaunt, DCLG Fire Minister, on Friday 22 August.  The details of this meeting were subsequently reported to and discussed at the Executive Council on 26 August. At that meeting, and in subsequent communication, the Minister stated that she was considering various aspects of the proposed pension changes.  She set out that she wished to meet during the week commencing 8 September.  She also agreed to meet again before then to further consider issues raised by the union.  On that basis, the Executive Council agreed not to set strike dates, to attend the meetings suggested and to consider the outcome of these discussions before proceeding.

FBU officials met Penny Mordaunt and her team on Monday of this week (1 September). At this meeting, she confirmed that she was giving consideration to all the issues raised; that her officials were examining the options which might be available around concerns raised by the union; and that she was due to discuss these issues with others within government before the week commencing 8 September.  She repeated that she wished to meet the union again following these discussions in order to inform us as to the outcome of her consideration and the discussion within government.

A discussion followed, during which officials set out the concerns of the FBU in relation to the possible start of the Parliamentary procedure to introduce the regulations for the 2015 proposed pension scheme. Clearly, the Executive Council – along with FBU members more widely – would be concerned that this period could simply be used as a delaying mechanism in order to immediately lay the regulations before Parliament. Following this exchange, the Minister has written to the union confirming that she will not take these steps to lay the regulations until after Parliament returns in October (13 October).

The Executive Council considered the report from these meetings along with the letter received from the Minister.  The Executive Council agreed that the written confirmation stating that there would be a delay in any steps to lay the regulations was a positive step and should be acknowledged as such. It does not in any way guarantee that alternative proposals on pensions will emerge, but it is a clear shift in relation to the previous timetable that we were aware of.  On this basis, the Executive Council agreed not to call strike action, but to follow these discussions through.

Meeting with FBU women officials

Penny Mordaunt had asked specific questions of the union in relation to the impact of the pension proposals on women firefighters and had asked to meet with officials of the FBU National Women’s Committee. This meeting took place today (3 September) with national officer Sean Starbuck also in attendance.  You will be aware that there is a huge amount of evidence regarding the fitness of firefighters.  It is this evidence that has raised concerns about the impact of ageing on firefighters, particularly in relation to maintaining operational levels of fitness.  It is this issue that has prompted our concerns about the threat of capability dismissals (No Job No Pension).  We need to be clear that this issue threatens all firefighters – men and women – but does disproportionally threaten women members.

Our women officials were very clear that they were making a case about fitness of firefighters and the appalling impact of the overall attacks on our pensions.  Within this, they also spelt out the specific issues affecting women firefighters.  It was of particular value that the Minister was able to hear this case directly from two operational firefighters facing these attacks on pensions directly and personally.  On behalf of the Executive Council, I would like to thank the NWC officials for their assistance in this discussion, which can have left Penny Mordaunt in no doubt about the issues and the level of anger felt on the front line of the fire and rescue service and among women in particular.

Next steps

Arrangements are now being put in place to meet Penny Mordaunt again during the week of 8 September. The Executive Council will reconvene shortly afterwards. Further information and updates will follow as soon as possible. I would like to thank FBU members again for the determination and solidarity shown.  We hope that progress can finally be made at our next meeting, but otherwise we need to stand ready continue our campaign for a just settlement for firefighter pensions.

Best wishes.

Yours fraternally

MATT WRACK

General Secretary

 
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