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Silent ministers push firefighters towards strike action over pension changes

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack warns on politicians’ refusal to negotiate

Firefighters battling plans to make them work until they drop have said that walkouts in England and Wales now "seem unavoidable" after ministers failed to act despite a 78 per cent strike vote.

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack issued the last-ditch warning following a union executive meeting to discuss politicians' responses in Edinburgh, Cardiff and London to its demand for sensible discussions to avert industrial action.

Firefighters last month overwhelmingly backed a walkout over government plans to raise the "normal" retirement age to 60 and to increase workers' contributions.

In a statement the union told members to "prepare themselves for the call for strike action" but pledged to work hard for a negotiated settlement.

The coalition's proposed "final agreement" also raises the future threat to link their payout to the state retirement age - potentially forcing them to wait until 67 for their pensions.

That's despite a government study showing that most firefighters are unable to safely carry out the physically demanding job far past 50.

Coalition Fire Minister Brandon Lewis remained unrepentant on the government's plans, saying that the offer "is one of the most generous in the public sector."

But the FBU warns that the changes could see older firefighters deemed unfit kicked out of the service after years of life-saving work and forced to wait at least a decade to get their pension - or facing a big cut by taking it early.

The union approached ministers responsible for the service in England, Wales and Scotland to pass on their members' concerns following the ballot result.

Only the Scottish government has since produced firm counter proposals, which the union is currently considering.

As a result the FBU has temporarily postponed strike action north of the border.

But the response in Westminster and Cardiff has so far been limited to single meetings at which the union reiterated its concerns.

Mr Wrack said there was still time to avert strikes in England and Wales if their governments "see sense, put public safety first and come back to the negotiating table willing to compromise."

He added that the union had "tried everything to avoid strike action being necessary."

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