Fire fighters say they will join the largest one-day strike the government has faced since 2010, as public sector employees, including civil servants, teachers, passport staff, and health workers, protest against pay freezes.
The Fire Brigades Union became the latest to test the new militant mood when it announced yesterday it is joining strike action in a bid to end to pay freezes now that the recovery is under way.
Ministers introduced a public sector pay freeze in 2010, and in 2012 brought in a pay cap of 1%, which is still in place.
The FBU has been locked in a long-running row with the government over plans to change pensions and the retirement age of firefighters. The dispute has led to sporadic strikes, as well as union court action to defend the value of the firefighter’s pension. The 10 July walkout, lasting from 10am to 7pm, will be the 15th since the FBU campaign began.
The union is expected to announce further action later this week. Across the country, schools – particularly primaries in urban areas – will close, and some passport services and local government work will be restricted.
Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, said: “We are proud to take strike action alongside our colleagues in other unions on 10 July. The fact that this government has united so many workers to take strike action against them is a testament to the failure of their policies. They are destroying our public services and wrecking the lives of millions.”
Speaking to the Unite conference in Liverpool, Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said public sector workers were angry that they were being locked out of the recovery. She said: “Whether they work in town halls, hospitals or central government departments, public servants everywhere are facing a huge squeeze on their incomes. Pay restraint was a bitter pill to swallow during the dark days of recession, but now the economy looks to be back on its feet, public sector workers are understandably angry that their pay continues to be held down. Pay rises way below the cost of living, coming hard on the heels of several years of pay freezes, have left family budgets stretched to the limit. Local authorities say they have no money to pay them more because the chancellor has cut council budgets to the bone. The government managed to find the cash to give the wealthy a nice tax cut, yet professes not to have the means to give hard-working public servants the pay rise they deserve.”
Other unions that have members joining the strikes include the PCS covering job centres and civil service offices, the National Union of Teachers, Unison, GMB and Unite. Unison has claimed pay freezes and below-inflation pay rises had reduced local government workers’ pay by 20% since the coalition came to power in 2010.
Local government minister Brandon Lewis said: “The government believes a solution can be reached, but not under the shadow of industrial action, which only serves to damage firefighters’ good standing with the public. By calling more strikes during an open consultation the FBU leadership has once again shown it is not serious about finding a resolution.”
He claimed nearly three quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015. Under the new scheme, a firefighter who earns £29,000 would be able to retire aged 60 and get a £19,000-a-year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension. The equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.
Source: The Guardian
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