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 

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We build it, they give it away and ask us to pick up the pieces

We live in a mad world, ladies and gents, a mad world.

Chomsky Privatisation

The one and only hospital in the UK that was privatised has just gone bankrupt and now WE have to foot the £10 million bill to save it. A typical story of how the public pay for and build proud institutions, only for the government to give it away for next to nothing and have us pay for it again when the said private firm (who usually shares close relations with whichever puppet we have in government) screws it up. We let this happen time and again and let our governments get away with it. We really are suffering a form of Stockholm syndrome. Noam Chomsky has long said that defunding and creating a panic is the best way to privatisation for the corporate shills we have running the establishment today and that is what we are seeing on a grand scale with the NHS.

Circle Healthcare have claimed to save the public money overall, despite leaving a £7-12 million deficit and remain intransigent on their belief that they have completed a good job, citing a changing landscape for the reasons to pull out. The issue of people being able to profit from the health and wellbeing of the population is glossed over by these profiteers.

Hopefully the public will see through the often repeated “free at the point of entry” rhetoric spouted out by our politicians and demand that it stays in full public ownership.

FBU Petition

Democracy fail

On Monday night parliament debated firefighter pension regulations and an early day motion, 454, laid in prayer against it. It went to the wire. I sat with friends who will be affected by the decisions taken and watched as result came in. It was not what they were hoping.

MP’s voted 316 – 261 in favour of the governments current firefighter pension regulations. I can’t say that I wasn’t gutted about the vote result for my friends, but I was not surprised that people in the House of Commons put the value of their own careers ahead of the reality of the debate put in front of them and the risks posed to all as a result of an ill thought and dangerous set of pension regulations that started in 2006. The debate had been made a three line whip whereby defying the party line may have meant they (MPs) would be disciplined and ejected from the party but would retain their seat as an independent until restored. The MP’s seem to have missed the idea of unity and sticking together because the Tory party would not have ejected their MPs this close to a general election if they had voted against the party in big enough numbers.

The debate of firefighter pensions was as one-sided a debate as you will be likely to see. The government have an academic report which has thrown serious doubt over the ability of firefighters to remain operationally fit and safe to carry out rescue duties into their late 50’s, with the only chance of this being achieved being a reduction in fitness requirements leaving firefighters and the public at great risk every time they are called upon. This seems to be the preference of Westminster and was highlighted time and again by concerned MPs on both sides of the house.

MPs have sat and heard over weeks and months some of the very real and personal way these changes will affect people, some being very close friends of mine and it is those people I feel for the most right now – the ones that poured their hearts out and betted on a political system that proved once again who it really serves, the banks and corporations. Perhaps they should have been listening and in particular Kate Hoey who pleaded with MPs to vote on what their conscience told them, not their party whips. Many thought we had moved on from the days when people blithely followed orders without engaging their own moral compass, apparently we were all mistaken.

Their fight goes on and it is important that we do not become demoralised, cynical or divided. George Osborne wants to return public spending to the 1930’s, Francis Maude has started work on making all work streams provided by the NHS and the Fire and Rescue Service outsourced or privatised. What we do and how we react will define the lives of our children for a generation.

FBU Petition
We Rescue People Not Banks

Be passionate and rise to the challenge.