Hundreds of firefighters gathered in Newcastle for a rally against changes to their pension and retirement ages.
The protest at the Monument today formed part of a national 24 hour stoppage in the long running dispute over Government proposals the Fire Brigade Union described as “unworkable”.
Officials say that under the government’s plan, firefighters will have to work until they are 60 instead of 55, pay more into their pensions and get less in retirement.
The latest industrial action in the four year dispute followed claims by the FBU that fire minister Penny Mordaunt had mislead parliament over the matter.
It says in a parliamentary debate last December she gave a guarantee that any firefighter aged 55 or over who failed a fitness test through no fault of their own should get another role or a full, unreduced pension.
The union said fire authorities across the country had failed to back up the minister’s “guarantee”.
However a Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said:
“We have been clear that firefighters get an unreduced pension or a job and have changed the national framework through a statutory instrument to do so.
“If fire authorities do not produce processes which yield this, the Secretary of State has said he will intervene.”
In Newcastle, Pete Wilcox, regional secretary for the FBU in the North East, said:
“We don’t want to be taking action because we’re aware of the consequences as we deal with them day-in and day-out.
“But we have been misled. The government talked of giving guarantees to those who fail a fitness test through no fault of their own to get an unreduced pension. Then it spoke of setting up an appeals process on it. Why do you need an appeals process when there’s supposed to be a guarantee?”
He said improvements to pension arrangements had been made in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which meant no strike action was taking place there.
Mr Wilcox added: “We hope the Government will be back around the table and start negotiating again.”
As well as the firefighters and their families who attended the Newcastle rally, representatives of other unions including Beth Farhat, Northern regional TUC secretary, turned up to give their support.
The strike began at 7am on Wednesday and saw pickets at fire stations across the North East.
Meanwhile a number of North East FBU members joined thousands of colleagues in London for a lunchtime rally in Westminster addressed by MPs and union officials.
Firefighters later lobbied MPs for support in their campaign against changes to pensions and retirement age.
The Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman added:
“Strike action is unnecessary and appears to be over a point which is a vast improvement on the 2006 scheme which required firefighters to work to 60 with no protection.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Feb 2015
Puplic services ground to a halt across Wearside yesterday as workers walked out in support of the strike. Schools, libraries, leisure centres, museums and other public buildings were shut.
Pickets were in place outside Sunderland Civic Centre.
John Kelly, secretary of Unite’s Sunderland City Council Branch, said: “Unite is proud to be taking part in strike action alongside our fellow trade unions.
“This is a fight for better public services, and for fair pay for those who work hard to deliver those services.
“Council workers have been targeted to bear the brunt of the austerity measures that have been imposed by millionaire cabinet ministers since 2010. Unite fully understand that Labour-run councils like Sunderland City Council are the scapegoats when implementing this Coalition Government’s austerity measures.
“Local government workers and the communities they deliver services to believe that local government workers should have fair pay, not poverty pay.”
Source – Sunderland Echo, 11 July 2014
SOUTH TYNESIDE –
There were pickets outside South Shields Town Hall, the town’s Middlefields refuse depot and at the JobCentre in Chapter Row, and more than half of schools in the borough closed for the day.
All the borough’s libraries were also shut, and all council refuse collections were cancelled, and the crematorium on John Reid Road, South Shields, closed for the day.
Despite the widespread disruption, Merv Butler, branch secretary of Unison South Tyneside, believes the public remain generally supportive of the action – and the reasons behind it.
Horn-beeping motorists expressed support for the dozen or so trade unionists gathered outside the town’s hall’s Beach Road entrance yesterday and, also on hand to show his support was Labour councillor Ernest Gibson, Mayor of South Tyneside last year.
There were pickets from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Harton Technology College in South Shields.
The school was closed to pupils, although members of other teaching unions and non-union staff did go into work.
COUNTY DURHAM –
Striking workers picketed outside council offices, job centres, tax offices and courts across County Durham and North Yorkshire.
Workers from government agencies including the Student Loans Company in Darlington, the Passport Office in Durham City and the HM Revenue & Customs offices in Thornaby took part in the industrial action.
In County Durham, more than 130 schools closed for the day, although only a handful of Darlington’s schools shut.
Twenty North Yorkshire schools closed and a further 50 suffered disruption.
On Teesside about 35 schools in Stockton were closed or partially-closed.
A survey commission by Unite on the eve of the strike found that 50 per cent of people in the North of England agreed that the local government workers’ call for an £1 per-hour pay rise was justified.
“The poll confirms that people across the North support workers who are fighting to end poverty pay in our local councils,” said Mike Routledge, Unite local government officer for the North-East.
Source – Northern Echo, 10 July 2014
Picket lines could be seen around the town with the most prominent outside of the Civic Centre, in Victoria Road, Hartlepool.
Other’s took place outside Hartlepool Borough Council-run buildings in Church Street, and also in Wesley Square, outside the Jobcentre.
Councillor Stephen Thomas, Labour representative for the De Bruce ward, was also on the picket line to offer his support.
Coun Thomas, who works for Health Watch Hartlepool but took the day off to take part in the action, said: “I’m here to basically show my support to the strikers because I think that the way the Government is treating government sector workers is absolutely appalling.
“The one per cent pay rise they’ve had in the last four years equates to a 14 per cent cut in real terms.”
Teachers were also included in the strike with a number of Hartlepool schools closed for the day.
The Fire Brigade Union (FBU) also joined forces in the strike action, with crews from Cleveland Fire Brigade’s Stranton Fire Station forming a protest.
Brian Gibson, the FBU chairman for Cleveland, said: “The action we took part in is particularly important because all the unions have got together to show our strength of feeling at getting one per cent pay rises. The FBU’s argument is also with the Government over pensions.”
He added: “We’ve had great public support, all we’ve had is support.
“We’re so pleased.”
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 11 July 2014
Outside Middlesbrough Town Hall this morning, many office workers arriving for work crossed the picket lines.
Dawn Nicholson, Unison Area Organiser said: “It’s going well.
“Some people are crossing the picket lines but a lot of them are employed by Mouchel.
“Mouchel workers haven’t been balloted and can’t strike but many have signed our petition.”
However as one woman made her way into work she answered calls for her to strike saying: “People are still need to make a living.”
GMB union, shop steward, Brian Foulger, said: “We’re quite surprised by how many people, even management, have gone out on strike.
“Since 2010, local government have been putting money away for a rainy day. Well, it’s pouring down.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 10 July 2014
Thousands of North East workers are gearing up for one of the biggest days of industrial action in this country in years.
Teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants will join up with around 1.5 million colleagues nationwide in a 24-hour walk-out in a protest over pay, pensions and work conditions.
Bin collections will be suspended, council buildings including libraries will be closed and most controversially it will result in the sweeping closure of hundreds of schools across the region.
Mike McDonald, Regional Secretary of the NUT which has 20,000 members in the region, said: “Teachers are extremely reluctant to strike because of the impact on children’s education.
“However they feel that this current Government’s attacks on education will cause far more damage.
“Morale in the profession is at rock bottom, teachers are wasting hours on pointless paperwork and scores are quitting in their first years because of unmanageable workload, uncertain pay and worsening pensions.
“Children deserve teachers who are motivated, enthused and valued. Education Secretary Michael Gove would do well to engage properly with the profession and address teachers’ concerns to end this dispute.
“For teachers, performance-related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and heavy workload for 60 hours a week is unsustainable.”
The Fire Brigade Union is protesting at changes to firefighters’ pensions and a later retirement age.
Meanwhile the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the Public and Commercial Services Union are protesting over pay rates.
A pay freeze was imposed in 2010 for three years followed by a 1% increase last year and the same offer this year.
They say that represents an 18% fall in pay in real terms, back to the level of the 1990s.
Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s Deputy Regional Convenor and a local government employee said: “The pay offer from the local government employer is derisory in the extreme.
“This year’s pay offer would see 90% of school and local government workers receive a further pay cut. The offer of a 1% pay rise if you earn £7.71 per hour or more, or if you earn below that it is slightly more to take us just above the National Minimum Wage.
“This pay offer does not keep pace with price increases and our pensions will suffer. This pay offer is nowhere near enough.”
Karen Loughlin, the union’s Regional Lead Officer on Local Government, said: “Part-time workers – mainly women and more than half the local government workforce – have been particularly hard hit, with their hourly earnings now worth the same as they were 10 years ago.
“Many low paid part-time Local Government workers need benefits and tax credits to keep their families out of poverty.
“It is deeply disturbing to hear the continuing stories of Local Government workers resorting to food banks.
“UNISON is demanding a decent pay rise in recognition of the valuable role that our members perform in delivering public services to children, young people, the elderly and vulnerable in our communities.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers have not voted for this week’s strike action, so it is disappointing that the leadership of the unions are pushing for a strike that will achieve nothing and benefit no one. Union leaders are relying on mandates for action that lack authority – the National Union of Teachers is relying on a ballot run nearly two years ago.
“As part of our long-term economic plan, this Government has been taking tough decisions to address the budget deficit we inherited in 2010.
“One was to introduce pay restraint in the public sector, while protecting the lowest paid. Pay restraint protects public sector jobs, supports high-quality public services and helps put the UK’s finances back on track.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 July 2014
Worrying new figures reveal the North as the fire capital of the UK.
As they face planned multimillion-pound cuts, brigades across the region have seen some of the biggest hikes in fire call outs.
The latest information, from the Department for Communities and Local Government, comes as union representatives in the area warn Government bosses to stop its “slashing” of budgets or face a “bleak future”.
Cleveland topped the UK league of shame suffering a worrying 41.5% hike in recorded fires between 2012/13 and 2013/14, rising from 2,634 to 3,728.
Durham was second with a 35.7%, from 2,496 to 3,388, while Tyne and Wear came in fifth with a 21.1% increase, from 5,321 to 6,446.
Concerns have been raised that current Government cuts to brigades across the region can only place the public at greater risk.
It comes in the week Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWF&RS) lost two engines in a bid to save cash. One was axed from Wallsend fire station in North Tyneside on Tuesday, while Swalwell in Gateshead lost a vehicle on Thursday.
Earlier this year TWF&RS unveiled plans to cut 131 jobs – 20% of front-line posts – in a bid to save around £8m.
Union bosses today said the service was facing an uncertain future.
Dave Turner, North East brigade secretary for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), said: “It’s a very bleak and grim picture at the minute. The only answer is to stop slashing fire service budgets as we are facing a horrendous situation. We’ve already lost two engines this week.
“A lot of the work we do is not even recorded in fire statistics; work in the community, prevention work. If we are working in a much reduced financial situation, how are we going to address these matters?”
Chris Lowther, assistant chief fire officer for community safety at TWF&RS, said: “Last year we saw a 21% increase in fires we attended, this was due to a 33% increase in deliberate secondary – rubbish/grass/wheelie bin – fires and an increase in some false alarms. All other fires continued to reduce.
“The increase, as the national report says, was because there was an unusually low number of outdoor fires the previous year. This was due to a much higher than average level of rainfall.
“Over the last five years we’ve actually seen the number of fires reduce by 23% and the number of deliberate secondary fires and accidental house fires reduce by a fifth.”
Cleveland Fire Brigade announced plans earlier this year to axe 114 firefighters as part of a package of cuts to save almost £6m.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the move, which also includes the closure of a fire station in Middlesbrough, would put lives at risk.
Today, the Brigade defended their position as number one on the UK list, claiming the figures cover two very different consecutive years and are not representative of the bigger picture.
Phil Lancaster, director of community protection for the Brigade, said: “Between 2012/13, we had one of our lowest years on record, particularly when it came to grass and bush fires, known as secondary fires. Remembering back to that year, we had one of the wettest periods for more than 100 years, consequently that had a big impact on the figures.
“Skip forward a year, and we had one of the driest spring and summers since 1976.
“When you compare the two years there seems to be a stark difference, but the wider picture is much different. For the first three months of this year, the figures have reverted to a more downward trend.”
Northumberland has seen a big rise in the number of people injured in fires – from 20 in 2012/13 to 33 in 2013/14 – the highest rise in the country.
A spokeswoman for the service said: “The service has carried out a full review of performance for 2013/14.
“The national statistics of 33 fire related injuries include 11 occasions when people were given only minor first aid or advised to go to hospital for a precautionary check-up.
“When looking at the figures for England and Wales, other than the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly, Northumberland has the lowest number of non-fatal fire injuries.
“Fire related injuries for the first quarter of 2014/15 in Northumberland have reduced in comparison to 2013/14.
“The Service remains committed to improving our performance to ensure the safety of the Northumberland Community.”
County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service saw a 35.7% rise in overall fires, just behind Cleveland.
Steve Wharton, operational delivery manager for the brigade said: “We work with partners including the Police and local authority to address areas of higher risk from secondary fires. As well as local environmental audits, fire crew patrols, school education and additional police presence in key areas, bonfire, Easter and summer fire prevention strategies are in place to mitigate the number of secondary fires. As a result of this work we have currently had approximately 35 per cent fewer fires this financial year compared to the same period last year.”
In North Yorkshire the overall number of fires increased by a more moderate 9.6% while Cumbria experienced a fall, from 1,660 incidents in 2012/13 to 1,631 in 2013/14.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 July 2014
SUNDERLAND will be without a fire station in the city centre for the first time in more than 100 years, it was decided today.
The announcement comes as Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service faces making cuts of £5million.
The Fire Authority met today opting to close the central station in a move that will also see the loss of 131 frontline firefighter posts.
The move was condemned by union bosses.
FBU Tyne and Wear Brigade Secretary Dave Turner said: “Reductions in Government funding have already seen years of cuts to our service, and during the consultation process Fire Brigade Union members across the region made it clear that further reductions will jeopardise the safety of firefighters and the public.”
The move to close the station will leave the city without a central station for the first time since 1908.
It comes just weeks after Northumbria Police announced proposals to close Gill Bridge police station, leaving Wearside without a police base in the city centre for the first time in 100 years.
Today, the FBU has also questioned the necessity of further cuts while the fire authority is holding unprecedented reserve levels of £25-£35 million.
The authority is also considering the introduction of ‘targeted response vehicles’ — vans staffed by two firefighters — to compensate for losses of firefighters and fire engines, and the construction of a new fire station in the Benton area of Newcastle to compensate for the closures.
It is hoped the job losses can be met through natural wastage.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 20 Jan 2014