Harrogate firefighters insist strike action ‘nothing to do with pay’

Harrogate Fire Station
Harrogate Fire Station

Harrogate firefighters have explained their decision to take part in the latest four-day strike from October 31 in the continuing bitter row over pensions.

Members of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) walked out from 6pm with the strike ending on the evening before Guy Fawkes Night.

Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt called the strike action ‘completely unnecessary’ but watch manager Simon Wall said that firefighters were ‘entitled to the contracts we signed up to’.

National strikes began on September 20, 2013, as the FBU opposed government proposals that would see workers required to continue to 60 before receiving a full pension.

Mr Wall said that firefighters in England wanted to receive alternative proposals, similar to the ones being offered to the devolved government.

He said: “The whole dispute has nothing to do with pay. We have had a two per cent pay rise in the last seven years and we have accepted that, but the strikes are to do with our pensions.

“Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have all offered firefighters alternative schemes better than ours. In Northern Ireland they get the option to retire at 55 with a normal pension age.

“With current proposals, there is also no protection for firefighters not to be sacked on capability issues if they fail that test after been given a reasonable period of time to achieve the correct standard.

“Everyone loses their fitness over age and, if a firefighter is sacked, their pension will be deferred to 60. So you won’t have an income or a job unless someone will employ you but what is the viability of being employed at 55 after being sacked for capability issues.”

Mr Wall criticised the Westminster government for walking away from negotiations and said raising the retirement age to 60 would make his firefighters more vulnerable to injuries.

He said: “It is such a physically demanding job and, as you get older, you become more vulnerable to injury especially if you are picking up heavy bodies or objects.

“When you retire, you want to do so with dignity and you should be allowed to if you are too old to fight fires. There is no back office jobs, you are either a firefighter or your not.

“The average age of this office is 43 and there has been no recruitment for six years. In ten years you don’t want a watch of guys turning up to an incident who are nearly 60.”

Firefighters at Harrogate station took to the picket line from 8am on Friday, October 31, with contingency plans launched to cover for those striking.

Mr Wall admitted that the contingency cover was not as effective as the normal cover but said his workers didn’t strike without ‘a lot of thought and heart’.

He said: “We are paying for the mess that the country is in for the banking system and the fire control project which cost the government millions of pounds.

“They are trying to claw it back from our pensions. We are part of the public sector so we are an easy target with a strong union.

“We are very grateful of the overwhelming support from the public. It’s a very difficult decision to make to strike because it affects the public.

“It’s not a bad service that we provide and we don’t do this job for the money. We do it because it is something we enjoy and that we believe in.”