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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

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Cumbria's firefighters say they have public's support in pensions dispute

Firefighters in Cumbria say they have solid public support as they vowed to continue their campaign of industrial action in the run up to the festive period.

Firefighters picket line photo
Firefighters on the picket line in September

Cumbria County Council says that nearly 70 firefighters took part in the walk-out on Friday while on Saturday the figure rose to 78, though officials from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) suggested the figure is higher.

Despite the uncertainty over the scale of action, FBU officials say they are determined to carry on with their fight against the Government’s planned changes.

The dispute is likely to grow increasingly fractious as more strikes are planned for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

The FBU’s Cumbria branch secretary, Carlisle based firefighter Graeme Higgins, said he and his colleagues were growing more determined.

He said: “The turn-out for the latest strikes was no different than we had at the beginning of the dispute.

“We’re now reaching the point where we feel that decisions need to be made at a national level.

“As far as strength of feeling among the public and our members, we have been overwhelmed by it.

“We’re getting lots of support from all directions: from councillors, from MPs, and from the public.

“It’s been fantastic. While we’ve been on the picket line the public have been speaking to us, beeping their horns to show support as they drive past, and even brining us fish and chips.”

His regional FBU colleague Les Skarratts added: “The public are 100 per cent behind this action.”

He said the key issues were the “massive hike” in pension contributions – up from 11 to 14 per cent; and the possibility that firefighters may have to continue serving until they reach the age of 60. He said as many has 300 firefighters in the county had taken part in industrial action.

He claimed the government had walked away from the negotiations. Ministers want to raise firefighters' retirement age from 55 to 60 and increase their pension contributions. Ministers say firefighters’ pensions remain “generous”.

Fire service minister Brandon Lewis has said the strikes “contradict” the FBU’s claim that it wants to resolve the dispute through negotiation, and “further damage the good reputation of firefighters”.

Firefighters will still get one of the most generous public pension schemes, he said.

Mr Lewis said improving the terms offered to firefighters “would be unfair to taxpayers and other public sector workforces”.

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