Whilst you were sleeping

Whilst you were sleeping this week, thousands of firefighters and their families were thrown over board by this government after rail roading though a pension regulation fit only for the dark ages.

Firefighters will now be expected to work to a flawed Normal Pension Age (NPA) of 60 from April 1st, that was first introduced by the Labour Government in 2006 after employers mislead the then government on the scope for redeployment when firefighters failed to maintain their fitness. 

Only 16 people have been redeployed since 2006 UK wide, with those opportunities fast drying up with the progressive cuts agenda and privatisation.

The NPA 60 of 2006 was brought in with no scientific proof one way or the other that a firefighter could maintain their fitness across the board into their 60s. The move by the coaliton to change all firefighters to NOA 60 saw a report commissioned by the then Fire Minister, Brandon Lewis, by Dr Tony Williams, which pointed to a potential 66-92% of firefighters failing the cardiovascular fitness test that is currently set at 42 VO2 from the age of 55. 

This would leave them in the unenviable position of having no job and no pension.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members entered into a trade dispute with this government which culminated in almost 60 strikes taking place over the last 18 months as the Coalition Government continued to squirm its way through meaningful negotiations and force upon them the regulation that the government wanted and not the regulation that was best for the public, the firefighters and their families. 

To add insult to injury, devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have managed to negotiate with national FBU representatives, a position where strike action is no longer required and a reasonable position on the issue of firefighters facing capability dismissal from age 55 onwards on the grounds of fitness. 

In England, firefighters have not been so lucky as Westminster officials have stuck to their lies and rhetoric and the VO2 assessment has no consideration for the natural aging process which affects every man and woman differently.

 

Time and again lies have been told in parliament by successive ministers to secure the new regulation, not least in a debate which took place on December 15th 2014 in the House of Commons. Ministers such as Eric Pickles claimed to guarantee that firefighters would not face the terrifying prospect of no job and no pension, just because they got old. This was proven to be a lie, by the very people who would enforce the new regulations, the fire authorities and was confirmed  by the employers own secretary in correspondence received in February 2015. 

The result of this change has left firefighters in England, the public and their families, facing an uncertain future and an aging workforce. With the cuts being faced by the public sector due to the bailout of the banks as a result of the recession, there is a dangerous cocktail brewing as fewer and fewer firefighters are left available to attend incidents, such as the one in Holborn, London, this week where firefighters fought for 36 hours to bring under control an electrical fire underground.

   

 

  

The irony of the pension changes being forced through on April fools day should not be forgotten, as the heady mix of aging firefighters and cuts come to the boil, the people who were responsible will have blood on their hands and they should, no must be held to account. There is a vital difference in the meaning of the words should and must that is beyond Westminster.

Firefighters will, I am sure, continue to fight for pension justice right up to and beyond the general election – the injustice that has occurred, the lies and the deceit of this Coalition Government demands it, stand by them as they stand by you.

For further reading as to why and how the government have lied, try Lyn Brown MPs letter to Penny Mordaunt MP.

Pictures by BBC and @activrightbrain 

London Lockdown – firefighters 24hr strike

Yesterday, thousands of firefighters brought London to a stand still as they descended on Westminster in anger at changes to their pension arrangements, during a 24 hour strike called by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

image

Fire Minister, Penny Mordaunt and the Government stand accused of deliberately misleading MPs in the House of Commons during a debate that took place on December 15th 2014. During the debate the Minister for fire stated six times that firefighters would be guaranteed their pension in the event that they failed to maintain fitness due to the natural aging process. This was further supported by comments made by DCLG Secretary, Eric Pickles, who made the same guarantees. These alleged guarantees came after the Ministers were informed BEFORE the debate took place by the fire service employers that legal advice showed there was no guarantee in the current regulation wording.

Following several weeks of lobbying, firefighters had too confirmed that the guarantee assured in the House of Commons was not as resolute as claimed and that many firefighters (between 66% and 92% from age 55-60) face a very real risk of having no job and no pension, just for aging.

Members of the FBU had earlier been at a rally in Westminster Methodist Hall and upon exiting, took to the streets and marched on Westminster, demanding that David Cameron answer for the potential misleading of parliament. The FBU had written three times calling for answers but to no avail. They then headed to Downing Street and made their feelings heard.

image

There was much anger on the streets, firefighters said they had made every attempt to follow due process with an Early Day Motion -454 (supported by the Labour Party) laid against the pension regulations submitted in late 2014 but now felt they were left no choice but to take to the streets. There was a significant show of anger and frustration, one firefighter stopped to tell me that they no longer felt they had a voice and that they could no longer trust politicians to do the right thing after so much effort was expended during the lobbying phase of EDM 454, only for it to be undone by half-truths and deception.

The message of the day was clear; they are not going away, they will be back.

image

image

image

The Image

When the mainstream media plays out the stories and view of firefighters striking, the images they conjure up are ones of greed and inflexibility – the unwillingness to ‘modernise’ and embrace change. This could not be further from the truth. Firefighters are the champions of change.

They have been for decades.

The images I conjure are of them riding fire engines, at community fates or stood on picket lines fighting for their rights and the rights and safety of people in their communities. They are images of their families, who worry every time they leave the house for work in the morning. Their children, the ones that they dare to dream bigger for than they had dreamt for themselves and the children of families they may never meet; the ones sitting on fire engines, squirting hosereels and dressing up at school visits in mini fire uniforms – dreaming of one day doing the job that they admire so dearly in their youth.┬áThe ones they rescue from fires or the families whom they reunite when they are rescued from car accidents.

They are the ones that firefighters fight and strike for, whether they realise that overtly or not. They are post guardians, for future firefighters, they are the silent protectors who respond whenever we call them. They can be brash, yet tender, they can be serious but full of laughter. They see the good in┬ápeople most would dismiss, they make mistakes, but who doesn’t? They are human, like you or I, just people who joined a career, to serve their community in the best way they know how, on a fire engine. A teacher, a friend, but a hero? A saviour? These are not their words. A firefighter is not in it for the accolades, but to give us a second chance if we have to dial the 9’s, they will fight for us, it’s in their name and it is why we should fight for them.

Future-firefighters

That is why the government should honour their deals, they are not after a hero’s pension, just what they had signed and agreed. They deserve better and so do we.