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We are ready to strike, say firefighters
FIREFIGHTERS in Worcestershire say they are ready to strike over a pensions dispute - which could see services crippled.
Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) leaders in the county say morale is “grim” and that they are deadly serious about carrying it out.
Your Worcester News has also learnt that any action in Worcestershire could involve a series of stop-start strikes spread over the course of several days or even weeks.
It also emerged yesterday that a "business continuity plan" is being drawn up which will see only "limited" cover, focusing on calls deemed to be the most serious.
Around 500 firefighters have been sent ballot papers on strike action after the Government suggested they should work until 60 before getting a full pension.
At the moment staff have to clock up 30 years service before getting the same deal, meaning many can walk away in their 50s.
Julian Jenkins, chairman of the Hereford and Worcester FBU branch, said: “We’ve already have massive cuts and are very worried about how this whole thing is progressing.
“Nobody wants to strike but we feel we’re being backed into a corner.
“The majority of firefighters in Herefordshire and Worcestershire back this ballot and we’re trying to be upfront about it.
“The cuts to pensions is on top of the £4m which is being cut from the service over the next three years - we feel it’s a double whammy.”
The 500 workers, which includes staff at stations in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, have until the end of the month to say yes or no to supporting a strike.
Ballots are also being sent out nationally, and if a majority say ‘yes’ each branch will be able to finalise their own arrangements for striking.
Fire authority leaders in the county say the workers are entitled to have the ballot - but are urging to hold off any strikes to see if the Government changes its offer.
At the moment fire minister Brandon Lewis has yet to come back with a revised deal, saying the front line workers will get similar terms to police officers.
Councillor Derek Prodger, fire authority chairman, said: “The FBU has a right to ask members to ballot, but I hope despite this, we can move forward together.”
But Councillor Richard Udall, who also sits on the fire authority, said: “We believe a strike would put the public at risk, but firefighters have the right to protect themselves from this attack on their pensions and their rights.
“Industrial action is the only defence available to them.”
THE Government wants to cut pensions so less firefighters walk away at a relatively young age with a gold-plated sum.
At the moment, staff can walk away at 50 or 55, depending on their grade, with a pension.
A deadline of mid-July was set for the FBU to accept the terms, with the Government saying it would be imposed on them anyway the age of 60 was formally backed.
That prompted the ballot, which runs until Thursday August 29 and asks members: ‘are you in favour of taking industrial action’.
In Worcestershire, the FBU say most staff are prepared to say yes, and that talks have already started about how any strike would occur.
That could include a series of regular stoppages, for hours at a time, spread over several days or longer, which would result in huge disruption.
Under the law, fire authorities are legally obliged to draw up some kind of contingency plan to ensure some kind of cover is in place.
In the West Midlands, senior officers have already been on training so they are ready to jump on engines and cover shifts if a strike becomes reality.
Here, a "business continuity plan" is being drawn up which will see only "limited" cover, focusing on calls deemed to be the most serious.
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