FIREFIGHTERS lashed out at Tory Fire Minister Brandon Lewis yesterday for keeping details of an improved pension scheme secret to provoke them onto an “unnecessary strike.”
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) launched the first of three days of action yesterday over plans to slash their pensions.
But a letter leaked to the press as the walkout began shows the minister let slip he has had improved plans for Fire Service pensions since March.
Mr Lewis kept details of costed alternatives that could have ended the pensions dispute and then berated the FBU for taking strike action.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “We’re astonished that the government would allow strikes to continue when for over a month it has been sitting on proposals that might point the way towards a solution.”
The Star was exclusively sent another letter from the minister to Mr Wrack which was dated the same day as the public announcement of industrial action.
In it Mr Lewis writes: “In choosing to take its members out on unnecessary strike action the FBU executive council has signalled clearly that it has no desire to progress the proposals we were considering.”
Mr Lewis concludes: “Our focus will now be on implementing the proposed final agreement.”
The agreement means that any firefighter retiring before the age of 60 will face a severe reduction to their pension.
The strikes in England and Wales — taking place for set periods of five or 12 hours between Friday May 2 and Sunday May 4 — are seen by the union as a necessity given the severity of the government’s attacks.
Cuts to fire services have been put in place across the country, with London being particularly affected.
FBU London secretary Paul Embery told the Morning Star that the pensions fight “was a matter of public safety.”
He said: “There are fire stations that have closed, fire stations that are earmarked for closure and there has been a serious reduction in the number of firefighters posts since this government came to power,” he said.
London saw 10 of its fire stations close and almost 600 jobs being slashed by Boris Johnson’s cuts in January.
A banner reading “closed due to pension theft” stood in front of the Euston fire station yesterday.
Dozens of young firefighters talked to passers-by about the dangers posed by the cuts.
FBU members expressed their worries at having been left with a much wider catchment area since nearby stations closed down.
But Mr Embery told the Tories that they have met their match in frontline firefighters
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