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Northern Ireland government’s offer of 55-retirement age means Westminster must change course on pensions, claim firefighters

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The Fire Brigades Union has this week welcomed an offer from the government in Northern Ireland that would allow firefighters to retire at 55 without financial penalty.

Firefighters in England and Wales will take part in their 14th strike between 10am and 5pm tomorrow (Saturday, June 21) over attempts from government to drive through proposals that could see firefighters losing 50 per cent of their pensions simply for being forced to retire early as a result of naturally declining fitness.

But following negotiations with the FBU, the Northern Ireland government has agreed that a retirement age of 60 did not reflect the occupational demands of firefighting.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The offer by the N Ireland government clearly demonstrates that allowing firefighters to retire at 55 is both sensible and affordable for government.

“The proposals are by no means perfect, but nevertheless demonstrate that when both sides are committed to resolving conflict through dialogue, industrial action can be avoided.

“It’s time for the governments in the rest of the UK to take note of the progress we have made in N Ireland and agree a more affordable, workable and fair pension scheme than is currently on offer.”

The union says it would now begin to consult N Ireland members on the offer, although not all of the points of their trade dispute have been addressed.

In order to accommodate a retirement age of 55, as part of the proposals firefighters would be expected to pay 12.2% of their salary into the scheme.

In addition the proposals include a reduced “accrual rate”, meaning that firefighters would receive less money per year once they retire.

The Westminster government’s proposals would see firefighters losing 47.1 per cent of the pension if they are forced to retire at 55 because their fitness has declined.

It’s own evidence — a report by Dr Tony Williams, published in December 2012 — and a recently-obtained report from the University of Bath help demonstrate that the majority of firefighters will be unable to perform front-line duties beyond age 55.

In addition, research by the Fire Brigades Union show that there only a handful of ‘non-operational roles’ for firefighters to be redeployed into.

Firefighters in England, Scotland and Wales are also currently taking part in action short of strikes over pensions, meaning they will not undertake voluntary overtime or help train strikebreaking firefighters who will work during this industrial action.

 

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