999 cover pledged across East Lancashire as firefighters strike for the first time in 11 years (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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999 cover pledged across East Lancashire as firefighters strike for the first time in 11 years
EAST Lancashire firefighters will strike for the first time in 11 years next week after union officials ruled in favour of national action.
The region’s 1,100 crew is expected to walk out for four hours between noon and 4pm on September 25 after talks with English and Welsh government officials failed to reach agreement over changes to pension contributions and retirement ages.
Lancashire Fire Brigade Union secretary Steve Harman said the government’s failure to negotiate was ‘nonsense’ and said its plan was ‘unworkable.’ Chris Kenny, chief fire officer for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service, said emergency cover had been arranged and that the majority of fire engines would remain operational.
Almost 80% of union members voted in favour of strike action in response to plans to increase the retirement age from 55 to 60 and push up pension contributions.
Speaking after the national announcement by FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, Mr Harman said: “We are saddened that the government has put us in this position but we hope that all members will stick together and fight for a pension that is fair and sustainable for the future.
“The current proposals they have refused to renegotiate are simply unworkable and will lead to a situation where more and more firefighters are denied pensions and face the sack due to a lack of redeployment roles.
“It is simply an unworkable plan that will fail in the long run.”
Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service is expected to use senior desk-based staff, who have experience on the frontline and who have been on refresher courses, to maintain emergency cover.
A spokesman said they had not sought out retired employees or volunteers. Mr Kenny said: “This is a national dispute between the FBU and government and is not a dispute between Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and our firefighters.
“We have a significant number of staff who have given a commitment to maintain emergency cover and, as a result, the public can be reassured that the service plans to keep the majority of fire engines in Lancashire operational during the dispute period.
“We urge all members of the public to be extra vigilant however and be aware that for minor fires in particular, there may be a longer wait for a fire engine.
“In the longer term, the challenge will be in bringing our workforce together after the dispute to re-establish the most professional service possible.”
Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: “I’m relieved that it will only be a four-hour strike.
“Although I understand their cause, I think it’s inappropriate to take strike action and it would be a good idea for a board similar to the police negotiating board to be set up to mediate disputes.
“Firefighting is a respected role but it could be damaged if a major catastrophe were to happen when they were on strike.”
Residents can find fire precaution information at www.take extracare.com
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