North East Labour MPs back firefighters in pensions dispute

MPs have spoken out to back firefighters, following a four-day strike over pensions.

Labour MPs from the North East urged Ministers to negotiate with firefighters.

And Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, hit out at plans to make firefighters work until they are 60 before they can receive their pension.

Currently, firefighters can retire at 55 but plans to make them work another five years are one of the contentious issues that have led to the strike.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Campbell said:

“I worked down the coal mine for 29 years, and I watched old men of 60 struggling at the coal face. What must it be like for firemen of 60 trying to save lives from fire and flood?”

He was answered by local government minister Penny Mordaunt, who said:

We need older workers to stay in the fire service because they have great expertise. By offering protections on pensions and jobs for older workers and good practice for fire authorities to follow, we will ensure that in future they have the protections that Labour did not introduce.”

> Sounds like “we need to keep on older workers because we can’t be arsed to train younger ones.” ?

The last Labour government raised the retirement age to 60 for people becoming firefighters after April 2006. The Government’s plans would increase the retirement age for every serving firefighter, including those who expected to retire at 55.

Other changes include changing the way pensions are calculated, which effectively means people will receive less, and increasing contributions.

Fire Brigades Union members began a four-day strike at the start of the end of October .

North West Durham MP Pat Glass asked:

“We have just come through the longest firefighters’ strike in 38 years. When will the Government stop their politically motivated and disingenuous behaviour in this dispute and genuinely sit down with the Fire Brigades Union to settle this, as the Governments of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are doing?”

Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell asked the Minister:

“Why does not she treat them with the respect that they deserve?”

And Stockton South MP Alex Cunningham highlighted a letter from Mrs Mordaunt to a Labour MP in which she said:

“I am conscious that we will only have the ideas for the service to meet future challenges and aspirations if firefighters are engaged and feel an ownership for the service. Trust and good morale are key to this.”

He asked her:

“How does refusing to change a single word of the regulation improve morale, and how does refusing to negotiate improve trust?”

The Minister insisted that firefighters received “one of the best schemes in the public sector”.

She said:

“There has been extensive debate and consultation on these matters. I have dealt with any outstanding issues in the past few months, including those of the transition of armed forces pension schemes into the firefighters’ pension scheme and fitness protections.

“The regulations have now been laid, and it is evident from the questions coming from the Opposition that they do not understand the scheme. It is an excellent scheme, and to say otherwise would be to do firefighters a disservice.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  12 Nov 2014

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