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Firefighters walk out as dispute hots up

Workers stage night-time strike in fight against Con-Dem attack that threatens public safety

Firefighters across England and Wales walked out on strike last night in defence of their pensions, their jobs and public safety.

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) members walked out from 6.30pm to 11pm.

They will strike again on Monday from 6am to 8am - ensuring that full cover is provided during Bonfire Night celebrations tonight, traditionally the fire service's busiest night.

It is just the latest part of the wave of anger which has seen teachers, probation officers, Civil Service and health workers stand up against the coalition government by taking action.

In the private sector, workers have also shown a determination to resist bosses' attacks on their pay and conditions, with successful struggles by bakery workers in Wigan in Lancashire, and cleaners on the Tyne and Wear Metro in Newcastle.

Other workers balloting on strike action include staff on London Underground, workers at parcel delivery firm UPS in London and cleaning staff at the First Great Western rail franchise.

For two years the FBU has tried to negotiate a settlement in its dispute over government proposals to raise firefighters' retirement age from 55 to 60.

The union says older firefighters will be forced out of their jobs if they are unable to meet strict fitness standards demanded of front-line workers, and that their pensions would be savagely reduced as a result.

The FBU also says the safety of the public and firefighters themselves will be jeopardised by the higher retirement age.

In addition, employers are demanding that firefighters increase their pensions contributions to more than 14 per cent of their wages.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack called the government proposals "unworkable and unaffordable."

He said: "It is ludicrous that, after two years of negotiations, the government has still not sorted out this mess.

"Firefighters want a pension scheme that takes account of the hazardous nature of the job as well as being affordable and workable for them and for the taxpayer.

"We hope these brief strikes will mean the government returns to negotiations so we can agree a sensible way forward."

Yorkshire and the Humber FBU secretary Peter Smith said the government attacks were "pulling firefighters together."

"The solidarity is there, and they are up for the fight because they are sick of the way they are being treated," he said.

"They are prepared to take action to secure their future jobs, their safety and the safety of the public."

Shadow local government and communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "This strike is a sign of the government's failure to get round the table and sort this dispute out. It has had two years to do so and it is time ministers did their job."

He said firefighters were "greatly valued" by the public.

The strike did not affect Scotland, where the Scottish government is involved in negotiations with the FBU.


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