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
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”.
“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
Hundreds of frontline firefighters have been axed across the North as part of “dangerous” cuts – with another round of job losses on the way.
An investigation shows how more than 300 full-time firefighter roles have been cut in the North in the last four years.
And with brigades admitting there are hundreds more jobs still to go thanks to cuts in Government funding, campaigners claim “a tragedy is waiting to happen”.
Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service has been the biggest casualty, with the axe taking out 18.4% of staff, some 173 workers – 143 of them frontline firefighters.
Cleveland has lost 17.5% of its workforce – 110 workers including 100 full-time or ‘on-call’ firefighters, and one station has closed.
Some 56 frontline firefighters have been axed in Northumberland, but 12 ‘on-call’ roles have been created. Overall, the brigade is 49 people (11.4%) – and two stations – down.
Meanwhile, Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service has lost 49 whole-time firefighters but has hired more ‘on-call’ and back office staff. It means the authority is 24 bodies lighter (4.1%) than it was in 2010.
The North East as a whole has lost 333 frontline firefighters – with that figure likely to double over the coming years.
Meanwhile Cumbria lost 16.5% of staff, including 30 full-time firefighters, while North Yorkshire is down 5% of staff, and 27 frontline firefighters.
Peter Wilcox, regional secretary at the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU), said cutbacks put both firefighters and the public “at greater risk” with fewer resources to respond to potentially life-threatening emergencies.
He said: “Firefighters witnessed a decade of 2-3% year-on-year reductions to fire service funding leading up to the coalition Government taking office in 2010.
“Since this time the level of cuts have been unprecedented, with frontline services being hit by losses of 20% on average and further cuts of 7.5% planned by central Government for 2015-16.
“In real terms, we have seen fewer fire engines available to respond to emergency incidents.
“This level of cuts is not sustainable and places the public and firefighters at greater risk from fires and other emergency incidents.
“Despite David Cameron’s pledge not to cut frontline services prior to his party’s election in 2010, this is one pledge too far and has not been honoured.
“Firefighters across the North are saying enough is enough. Members of the public anticipate receiving the right level of protection and expect the appropriate response in their hour of need.”
As well as fighting domestic fires, brigades here in the North cover large industrial areas where blazes can fast accelerate.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said the cuts should be stopped before it’s too late. She said: “The massive cuts this Tory-led Government has inflicted on fire services are not only unacceptable, they are dangerous.
“With more cuts due, I genuinely believe that a tragedy is waiting to happen. This Government needs to think again and fund our fire services fairly.”
The figures are set to make even grimmer reading by 2018, with more drastic cuts planned – but local fire brigades reassured residents they will be protected.
Cleveland Fire Brigade said it needs to save a further £6m in the next four years, meaning 135 frontline firefighters will be replaced by 72 ‘on-call’ staff.
Chief fire officer Ian Hayton said: “Cleveland has been at the wrong end of the Government austerity cuts and tops the league table of authorities with the highest funding reduction at more than 13%. We believe these reductions are disproportionate.”
Six fire engines, 131 more staff and three stations will be lost as part of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service’s three-year plan of cuts.
The authority’s chief fire officer Tom Capeling, announcing the plan in January, said the move is expected to save £5m. He said: “There is no doubt that this continues to be a challenging time for the service.”
In Durham and Darlington, the brigade is looking to save £3.6m by 2018, but bosses said firefighters lost in the last round of cuts weren’t made redundant.
Chief executive Susan Johnson said: “The small reduction in the number of whole-time firefighters has been through natural wastage – planned retirements and leavers.”
Northumberland Fire and Rescue also said further savings may be needed in the next three years.
“However residents can be reassured that in the future we will continue to work with partners to provide high quality prevention and protection activity along with a well-equipped and highly trained workforce,” said assistant chief fire officer Steve Richards said.
Cuts over the last four years mean the North East has lost 13.8% of its workforce, higher than the national average of 11.2% and the third worst region in England.
Nationally, 5,124 firefighters have been lost, forcing an FBU Ring of Fire protest tour of England, including stop-offs at Redcar and Sunderland.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the union, said: “The cuts, in our view, mean the service firefighters are able to provide is not as good as it could be or as good as it was.
“It means, for example, people are waiting longer after they dial 999 for firefighters to arrive. The ability to do the job safely is being undermined and this puts lives at risk.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 28 Sept 2014
Plans have been drawn up to build a £1million accommodation block for firefighters on 24 hour shifts as part of cost-saving measures.
Rainton Bridge Fire Station is to lose 16 firefighters as Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service looks to save £8million in the face of Government cuts.
A total of 131 posts will go as the service trims £5million from its frontline budget.
A new 24-hour shift pattern has been introduced at Rainton Bridge with crews staying in a purpose-built block while on call.
Officers who did not sign up to the new shift pattern have moved to other stations, but will not be replaced when they leave.
The shift pattern is expected to save £500,000 a year and the Houghton station was chosen because it has the lowest number of call outs.
Firefighters were called out 1,447 times in the last three years compared to 4,055 for Sunderland Central, 2,415 for North Moor, 2,033 for Fulwell and 2,492 for Washington.
But union bosses slammed it as “a return to Victorian work practices” and claimed it will not provide the same standard of service.
The Fire Brigade’s Union (FBU) also said it would have long-term impact on finances, as firefighters on the new shift earn 23 per cent more, which means their pension contributions must also rise.
Dave Turner, brigade secretary for the FBU, said: “We rigorously oppose this duty system and believe it is a return to Victorian working practices because they are expected to be on duty for 90 hours a week.
“We don’t believe that is appropriate in this day and age and it also puts an added pressure on our pension scheme.”
The 12 officers who have agreed to the new approach will work with bosses to decide what periods of time they will live on base for, but will still complete 182 shifts during the year.
The block, which is expected to be completed by spring, has been designed so family members can visit.
> Wow ! Just like prison…
A similar scheme is in operation in Birtley and County Durham Fire and Rescue Service run one in Seaham.
A planning application for the Mercantile Road station has been submitted by Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service Authority to Sunderland City Council, and if the £1.048million two-storey extension is approved, it is expected to save £500,000 a year through the new shift pattern.
The building project is being funded by Government cash, with the service to make up any shortfall from reserves.
Assistant fire chief officer Chris Lowther said: “From the public’s point of view, they will still get what they got yesterday, which is a fire appliance which is available 24 hours a day and the same number of people will attend at the same time.
“What the fire authority get from it going through is a significant budget reduction.”
The FBU believe the approach is a “return to Victorian working practises” and dispute fire chiefs’ claims the same standard of service will be provided.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 31 July 2014
Thousands of public sector workers went on strike in a bitter disagreement over pay and pensions, as part of the biggest day of industrial action seen in the country for years.
More than 400 schools in the region were fully or partially closed as teachers downed tools during the walk out.
Joining them were home helps, lollipop men and women, refuse collectors, librarians, dinner ladies, parks attendants, council road safety officers, caretakers and cleaners, as well as firefighters, civil servants and transport workers.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, council offices, Jobcentres, fire stations and Parliament in outpourings of anger over the coalition’s public sector policies.
Nationally, around 1m workers took part in the 24-hour strike, which unions claimed was one of the biggest in the country in years.
The Cabinet Office blamed union leaders for “irresponsible” strikes.
A spokesman claimed most public sector workers had reported for work and “nearly all key public services were being delivered as usual”.
The biggest issue in dispute is pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.
Thousands joined a march through Newcastle City Centre campaigning against cuts, changes to pensions, pay and work conditions.
Chants of “they say cut back, we say fight back” could be heard as the crowd of teachers, firefighters, health workers, council staff and civil servants led the procession from outside City Pool, near the Civic Centre, as part of the one-day walk-out with teachers also highlighting concerns over children’s education and firefighters raising their fears that cuts risk lives.
Among those lending their support was Blaydon MP Dave Anderson who said: “It’s a really good turn-out. I’m impressed and spirits are really high.
These people do a tremendous job day in day out and we are not looking after them properly. It’s time we did.
“It’s time we said enough is enough. They are at the end of their tether and a cry for help.”
The procession of workers, carrying banners and placards and flanked by mounted police, headed towards Northumberland Street then through the throng of shoppers onto New Bridge Street for speeches on the blue carpet area outside Laing Art Gallery.
Most were delighted at the turnout.
Shirley Ford, 50, an administrative assistant at Marine Park Primary School in South Shields, said: “I was also on the picket line in South Shields this morning and when you’re in a small school it’s hard to sense how everyone else is feeling so this is great to see – and the sun has come out!”
Andy Nobel, executive member for the FBU in North East which is the middle of its own industrial action following the loss of 300 firefighter posts and station closures in the wake of the Government’s austerity measures, said: “Public support during our whole dispute has been fantastic.
“When they’ve heard our arguments there hasn’t been a great deal, if any, adverse public reaction.”
A further eight days of action is expected to be announced.
One firefighter, who did not want to be named, said the chief concern of colleagues was pensions not pay.
Meanwhile, teacher Tony Dowling, 57, the members’ secretary for Gateshead NUT, said: “The main reason is the pension and pay but I’m really on strike because I care about the education of the children.
“Michael Grove is making the jobs of teachers impossible and ruining children’s education.”
Cheers greeted the speakers at the rally who included Nicky Ramanandi, Unison’s deputy regional convenor for public services alliance, who called the national turn-out “the second biggest turn of action since the end of the Second World War”.
Gordon Thompson, a councillor from Newsham ward in Blyth Valley, known for his refusal to pay his Poll Tax, was among the supporters at the rally and stressed the importance of making a stand.
And a familiar face lending his support was local actor Joe Caffrey, accompanying his father, retired Unison member Joe Caffrey senior, who was standing up for service providers whose pensions are taking a hit.
The 69-year-old from Whitley Bay said: “I’ve got a pension but I’m here for the people still working, particularly the young people.”
Picket lines were also formed outside some of the region’s schools and council offices, including Newcastle’s Civic Centre and the Department for Work and Pensions, in Longbenton.
Newcastle’s Grainger Market was closed to the public for the first time in two years because of the industrial action.
Reports suggest there was around 5,000 people at today’s march.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 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
Hundreds of people from the North East joined 50,000 protesters in London’s Parliament Square to campaign against austerity measures.
Two coaches full of determined protesters assembled at Newcastle’s Central station and South Shields’ Town Hall on Saturday, before they made the six hour journey down to the capital.
> There was also a coach from Sunderland, according to the Sunderland Echo.
The protesters were armed with colourful banners and placards designed by local artist group, Artists for Change, their message was conveyed in just a few words; “No Cuts, No More Austerity; Demand the Alternative.”
Upon arrival, they marched passed the BBC headquarters in Portland Place where they accused the broadcasters of ignoring the plight of thousands of impoverished Britons affected by the cuts.
> The BC evidently didn’t notice, as they ignored the protest until the next day…
They then marched to Parliament Square where the crowds were addressed by union workers, politicians and celebrities such as Russell Brand and journalist Owen Jones.
Mum-of-four Ruth Stevenson, 35, from Wallsend, attended the demonstration after the cuts put her family under extreme financial strain. She said: “It was really well organised and there were loads of families and children, people in wheelchairs, and even choirs at the sides of the marches.
“There was a fantastic feeling of all people united. There were NHS staff, firefighters, monks and all sorts of people there. The amount of bus loads of people who arrived was amazing.”
The National secretary of the People’s Assembly, Sam Fairbairn, talked to the masses about the negative impact of the coalition’s cuts on communities and workers.
He said: “Make no mistake, these cuts are killing people and destroying cherished public services which have served generations.”
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity was launched one year ago through an open letter co-signed by the late Tony Benn, along with a variety of union leaders, MPs and writers.
Ruth was moved to attend the demonstration when she realised she would have to forgo paying two-months worth of bills to ensure she has enough money to buy her children school uniforms.
She said: “I went because the cut-backs have really affected my family. This is the first year ever I am going to have to default on two months worth of bills to pay for school uniforms.
“School uniforms are really expensive and this year it is going to be too much. Although the cost of living has increased, wages have stayed the same. So it is really hard on families.”
She also has concerns for the future education of her four children.
“At the moment I am worried about my daughter Victoria who is really intelligent. I want her to go to university but I just don’t know how I am going to support her financially.
“And if I can’t support Victoria then I don’t know how I will manage with the rest of them,” she added.
Ruth believes the British people have fought hard for institutions such as the NHS, trade unions and the welfare system only to have them taken back.
“We have spent the last 50 years making sure that these institutions are there to protect ordinary people but now it is like the government is slowly removing the support network.”
Tony Dowling, Chair of the North East’s People’s Assembly, who helped to organise the North East protesters agrees that it is the hard-working and vulnerable who have been affected by the cutbacks the most.
He said: “The people who are being affected are the students who no longer have education maintenance allowance, the parents of children who have had their disability allowance cut or the NHS patients who face having to pay for their treatment in future.”
Tony helped to put together the North East’s cohort of the People’s Assembly in September 2013 at Northern Stage Theatre in Newcastle upon Tyne, and since then, the fast growing group have been busy organising workshops, public meetings, and petitions.
The 57-year-old, who is a specialist behaviour support teacher from Gateshead, hopes the demonstration has encouraged more people to join the People’s Assembly. He also wants it to be a reminder that the crisis was not caused by the people, but by the banks and the sub-prime mortgage lenders in the US.
“The banks have been bailed out but ordinary people have been made to pay for it. There is a small number, around 85 people – a double decker bus load – to be exact, who own as much wealth as 50% of people put together.”
Tony added that the ultimate goal of the People’s Assembly is to make the government come up with an alternative economic strategy to end poverty in the North East and in the rest of the UK.
“We want more jobs, less cut-backs, no privatisation of the NHS,” added Tony.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 23 June 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
One in every five firefighters in Tyne and Wear could be made redundant after the region’s fire service announced proposals to cut over £5 million from its budget.
The authority is consult on three options, including using smaller response vehicles or axing up to six engines.
Option one includes “standing down” engines on quieter nights and reducing fire fighter cover at some stations.
Option 2 would see the same cuts plus the closure of community fire stations in Wallsend and Gosforth with services moving to a new facility at Benton.
A third option sees closures in Sunderland.
If all options are backed then 131 firefighting jobs – 20% of the workforce – would go. An aerial ladder platform would also be lost.
Brigade Secretary Dave Turner said “We have made it clear in all recent discussions with senior managers that we will oppose any further cuts to frontline services.
“These are the most devastating cuts in the service’s history and will mean firefighters and the public will be at far greater risk if these cuts go ahead.
“It also means that areas of Tyne and Wear will be left without cover for extended periods – again increasing the risk to both the public and firefighters alike.”
Fire service bosses will decide on the cuts in January.
Source – Newcastle Journal 23 Oct 2013