The mood at County Hall in Kingson last Wednesday was angry and determined. Around 200 Surrey firefighters had gathered for a strike rally as part of the national dispute over their pensions. Surrey County Council had effectively ‘locked out’ their entire firefighter workforce for the full day (even though the strike was only due to take place from 12-4pm). Members of Surrey County Council Trade Union group (SCCTU) joined the protest in solidarity and I addressed the rally with a solidarity message calling for joint national trade union action, like that of two years ago, to stop this government’s austerity agenda.
Paul Couchman, SCCTU Secretary
Richard (Vinny) Jones, Brigade Secretary, Surrey Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said:
“Today, FBU members across England and Wales have embarked upon a 4 hours strike in our continuing dispute against the governments unworkable, unaffordable and unrealistic pension reforms. The government's position has been intransigent for some considerable time - despite a report commissioned by them from an independent medical expert stating that their proposals would lead to at least 2/3rds of fire fighters being unable to maintain the operational fitness levels after age 55 leading to mass capability sackings.”
“The FBU have continually argued that an occupationalpensions scheme must reflect the occupation of the members it serves and must include a normal pension age. The FBU have also argued that the 2015 scheme proposes a level of monthly contribution for a fire fighter of 13.2% (just shy of £350 per month) and will be widely unaffordable to members.”
“This action has been a great success in allowing the FBU to get its side of the story in front of the public who seem to be largely supportive and who understand the importance of having fit and capable fire fighters. We are obviously hopeful that the government will now return to the negotiating table with a view to resolving this dispute with a common sense approach which has been sadly lacking so far. The FBU will not shy away from further action if this is not the case.”
“Although the official action took place between 12:00 and 16:00, Surrey Fire Authority stood alone as the only Fire Authority in England and Wales that removed their fire fighters from duty for the entire 9 hour day shift. To exclude professionally trained and experienced fire fighters in favour of a handful of people that have never attended a live fire or road traffic collision is appalling. Councillor Kay Hammond, Chair of the Surrey Fire Authority said "No organisation can plan its day based on part of the workforce suddenly leaving partway through, and Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is no different". As it turned out, Surrey was the only Fire Authority in England and Wales that couldn't achieve this, so this seriously brings into question the competence of the Surrey Fire Authority. In my opinion, Surrey Fire Authority have been relishing an opportunity to show off to government the private workforce they have entered into contract with, using tax payers money. I believe that they saw this as an opportunity to show the government that they can deliver their privatisation agenda for the fire service. This cannot go unchallenged.”