Firefighters take the fight back to government

Firefighters in England and Wales will be striking again this week over what is an outrageous attack on firefighters and their family’s futures in a long running dispute with members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

This unelected government is about to oversee an MP pay rise of 11%, over £7000 pounds a year, which will also be going someway to bumping up their gold-plated, taxpayer pension. Incidentally some MPs still receive £3.40 from the taxpayer for every £1 that they pay into their pension scheme. A firefighter gets £1.05 for every £1 they pay in.

That is because we are all in this together I guess.

The firefighters pension contributions have increased by over 3% to over 14%, a firefighter is now paying over £300 a month into a pension, approximately £4000 a year (with an officer paying considerably more than this) and have had a negligible pay rise in the last 7 years, far lower than the price of inflation or the cost of living. These contributions have gone directly into the deficit caused by unregulated banks recession and not the pension scheme. With the proposed changes to the normal pension age firefighters will now have a 50/50 chance of being able to draw their pension and if they succumb to the natural ageing process, they will face losing 47% (since reduced back down to 21.8% after threat of a legal challenge on age discrimination) of their pension for the privilege.

In the meantime MPs have been using taxpayer money to heat horse stables, pay for and decorate second homes and have left so little for the rest of us that we now have record numbers of children in poverty and there has been a sudden realisation in recent weeks that the majority of people in poverty today already have jobs with 1 in 4 being described as ‘working poor’.

All this comes against the background of the Queen statement this year when she said that her government would be helping people to save for their futures. Really? Because to the many of her subjects, at present, it looks as though their futures are being stolen from them.

The (former) fire minister Brandon Lewis says it is not fair for the taxpayer to pick up the burden for the firefighters pension but is it okay for them to pick up horse stables heating bills? The firefighters pension scheme is not financially crippling to the economy, yet Brandon Lewis would have you think that their families, are not economically viable.

Brandon Lewis said the issue of a normal pension age of 60 is not an issue for this dispute because it has been in since the creation of the 2006 firefighter pension scheme and does not feature in the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) trade dispute, but this scheme was sold on the idea of redeployment for firefighters who cannot do operational tasks any longer. This has not been the case with less than 20 redeployments across the UK Fire and Rescue Service in that time and came at a time without any scientific support. Anti trade union laws mean that you cannot strike against legislation, the NPA 60 sits under the Public Sector Pensions Bill and so firefighters cannot strike against this issue specifically.

Since the introduction of the 2006 scheme, that has always been opposed by the FBU, a report commissioned by the government by Dr Tony Williams states vast numbers of firefighters will not be fit to do the job between the ages of 55 and 60. To check this, Brandon Lewis looked at 20 (less than half of the English Fire and Rescue Services) fitness policies and said that they could stay operational until the age of 60 no problem. He based this on the absolute minimum standard to stay “on the run” which would mean firefighters would be working to their absolute limit every time a fire call came in. There is no margin for error and no safety limit built into the fitness standards he is claiming will help them reach 60. Is this fair on the safety of the public or the firefighters? No. Since writing this there has now been a second report into firefighter fitness conducted by Bath University, which supports this view. The report states that a firefighter operating below a VO2 level of 42 would in fact be dangerous on the fireground and not safe to be ‘on the run’.

rescue people not banks rescatamos personas no bancos

And what is the under pinning theme behind all of this? The recession, created by the banks and the financial sector, but that is a story for another day, firefighters in the FBU say they will continue to fight on for pension justice, their motto taken from Spain is: Rescatamos Personas No Bancos – Rescue People, Not Banks – will this government say the same?

 

For more info follow on Twitter: @fbunational #hoop #fbupicket

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Standing up for education, the struggle continues

TEACHERS from the NUT went on strike again on March 26th in a bid to raise awareness and build opposition to the attacks on education that they say are damaging to our children’s future. The man directly responsible for negotiations is Michael Gove.

Michael Gove

But who is Michael Gove?

A recent article by the Financial Times (FT) described him as a man who “lauded Tony Blair as ‘the master’ also praising Blair’s attempt to export New Democracy to the Middle East. Here is a man the FT says draws inspiration not just from Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama but also Vladimir Lenin and Malcolm X, with portraits of the former adorning his office. Quite how he thinks hanging a picture of Malcolm X on his wall makes him any more accessible or acceptable to the people whose educational future he is dismantling is beyond me. He also claims (with some justification) that the Cameron government is top heavy with people from one school, Eton, and is his justification for the changes in education he claims will open up the talent pool to ensure effectively that the glass ceiling for state schools is removed and that the top jobs will be open to us all.

Gove has formed the focus for much of the teachers anger, in much the same mould as Jeremy Hunt has for the NHS or Brandon Lewis for the firefighters recent pension dispute, but these individuals are in the main just the messengers. They are the people who will claim in the future, when the dust has settled on the ruins of our beloved services, that they were “just following orders”. They should be reminded that people of good conscience do not blindly follow orders but then we may be expecting too much from individuals who may have bought into the idea that greed is good and of self-interest.

A brighter light needs to be shone on the corporations who stand to make billions in profit from the fire sale of our public services, such as that of the recent debacle of the Royal Mail which prompted Ed Miliband to call David Cameron not the Wolf of Wall Street but rather the Dunce of Downing Street. All very funny but there is potentially a very serious case of fraud attached to the stench of the sale of the Royal Mail. Instead of scoring cheap jokes at the expense of Cameron, perhaps Miliband and the Labour Party ought to be calling for open and transparent enquiries into the privatisation of our services, identifying who benefitted and by how much, focusing on those people with direct ties to our elected politicians. In this way we can stop focusing our attentions on the party scapegoats and get to the root causes of the problems in our self-proclaimed democratic society.

The NUT strike was well received, despite one-sided media attention as virtually every major mainstream news website reporting the strike as a disruption to children’s education, rather than focusing on the key issues our teachers face. There was a well attend demo and march in London and various local events across the country.

Teaching is one of the most important jobs someone can have, teachers are tasked with developing the people who will shape our future and we should aspire to have the best terms, conditions and working environments from which they can flourish and so too our children. The key being them being allowed to teach our children how to think and not what to think. Much has been made in the media about their concerns on pensions and pay but every teacher we have spoken to focuses first on how the government’s changes will affect our children, how they face being tested to failure and brow beaten by exams and their own personal plight second.

The struggles faced by teachers are one faced by us all and only by facing it together can we hope to make a change for the better, that is why we at NNI stand with our teachers, standing up for education.

Christmas strikes for firefighters but Christmas fell on the 25th again this year.

Once again firefighters of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU),will be taking strike action over the long running dispute with the government on changes to their pension contracts. The latest dates are Christmas Eve, 1900-0000, New Years Eve, 1830-0030 and January 3rd, 0630-0830.

Members of the FBU have taken strike action after an 81% yes vote was returned following their summer ballot on the basis that these changes are unnecessary and morally wrong. Normal Pension age (NPA) has been increased from 55 to 60, with the government saying that it brings them in line with the police and armed forces and crucially (in their eyes) the ill thought out New Firefighter Pension Scheme from 2006 which already had an NPA of 60 but was based on redeployment opportunites that never materialised. Some however may say it was based on lies. It had no scientific basis for achievability, just the faint whisper of redeployment if they were to struggle physically.

The firefighter pension scheme already had one of the highest rates of contribution in the public sector before these changes came in and now there has been huge pension contribution increases of up to 3.2% for a firefighter. This means that a firefighter is paying almost £400 a month into a pension that they now only have a 50/50 chance of being able to draw due to the extra years they are being forced to work. This new evidence came from a report paid for and commissioned by the government earlier this year by Dr Tony Williams which stated large percentages of this current workforce will be unable to carry out their duties past the age of 55 due to the fitness requirements to do the job. So now they face the sack, purely on the basis of the natural aging process.

Everyone is suffering at the cost of living and now firefighters and their families face being priced out of a stable future and being old and cold.

How is this being received and reported? The general feelings from the public seem to have been one of understanding. It is always difficult to tell from the social media platforms as trolls love to have their day and there are no bigger trolls than Katie Hopkins who loves a bandwagon, but the reports froms the firefighters themselves from the picket lines have been of overwhelming support (85% of people in a poll by The Guardian supported firefighter strike action over the Christmas period). It seems that the public know it is outrageous to think that every man or woman in the job can do it past the age of 55, the natural aging process can be harsh and when people hear that the pension scheme is contributory they cannot believe how much the firefighters pay.

The mainstream media have however started to close ranks with the government line. No surprises there. Initially the Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis (#fireliar) took a severe grilling from the press during the initial strikes over the fitness and capability issues but the mood now seems to be focusing on the firefighters themselves, with questions such as:

“Fire calls are down, it won’t be arduous will it?”

Statistics can be used to prove anything amd everything they attend is a “fire call”. Closer scrutiny of firelogs will show a drop off in attendance of certain incidents, automatic fire alarms being one. There has been a push by fire authorities to reduce attendances to these calls claiming that they are nearly always a false alarm. There has also been a major up turn in fire calls to incidents of flooding (you may have heard a little something about it on the news recently too). The government have said flooding is the biggest future risk to the UK, firefighters are the ones tasked with responding too and dealing with these incidents BUT the government will not give fire authorities the statutory funding required for equipment and training, instead this comes out of their already squeezed budgets due to cuts. They also attend building collapse (again you may have heard about that in the news recently). So incidents of fire down? Maybe and if so, it is because our firefighters do crucial education and orevention work with kids, families and businesses, but calls to other types of incidents are up, road traffic collisions being one. So if you think you do not use the fire service, think again.

“When was your last major fire?”

Every fire is major to the person that has one and that’s all there is to that. I also think there have been more fatalities, including the public and our firefighters in the past couple of years than previously abd there seems to have been a number of fire fatalities in 2013 particularly. It is interesting to note that the cause of death is recorded differently today by coroners than it was in the past (the time scales the government and authorities use). People who may be rescued from a fire but that die later on in hospital, do not always get recorded as a death by fire. It is complicated and something we will write about in the new year.

“The army and police work until 60, why not you?”

The army and the police do work to 60 now yes, but that does not make it right. Incidentally, how many soldiers have you seen patrolling Helmand or Bagdhad at the age of 50, let alone 60? The difference between the armed forces, police and the fire service is the scope that those services have for retraining and redeployment, something that just is not present in the fire service but as already mentioned, it does not make their NPA right and perhaps we should be seeking to bring that in line with the fire service.

“Why are you striking, it won’t change anything, surely you should be talking?

The FBU have been in discussion with the government for 3 years, they refrained from taking early industrial action on the belief that meaningful, evidence based negotiation would take place. What they have come to find however is that there is a difference between someone hearing what you are saying and actually listening to what you are saying. The FBU have provided a mountain of evidence to disprove the claims on sustainability of the existing scheme, the risk of opt outs if contribution rises continue unchecked and the government handily put forward the fitness argument of their own accord, evidence that has all been thrown on the fire, with a child like fingers in the ears approach. The government have even refused to enter into negotiations with the FBU since October at the time of writing. Firefighters have written to their MPs, councillors, Chief Fire Officers and fire authority chairs, all largely to no avail, as they have closed up shop and towed party line, unwilling to say and do what is right.

Firefighters have been left with no option but to strike and strike they will.