This afternoon firefighters in Wrexham joined the national strike action against changes to pension schemes.
At exactly midday, the doors to the station opened and a number of firefighters walked out to a small applause from the public. Signs went up across the windows on the Wrexham town centre station shortly before midday, saying ‘Closed until 4pm’.
The strike is taking place today in response to changes and proposals regarding pension schemes and retirement ages. Last week the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) announced that they would be taking industrial action in response to the proposals.
Firefighters were greeted with a round of applause by supporters when they exited the station at midday, with many cars driving past, waving and beeping to show their support. Members of the FBU and former firefighters were also in attendance to show their support.
Currently members are allowed to retire at the age of 55 and pay 11% of their wages into a pension scheme. Changes to the scheme already mean that many firefighters now pay 13%, and proposals could see the retirement raised to the age of 60. However recent proposals could see firefighters being sacked if they are not deemed fit enough for work in their late 50s.
Recent Government figures have shown that thousands of firefighters could face the sack without access to a ‘proper pension’ simply because they are getting older.
A recent review carried out by the Government found that over half of current firefighters between the ages of 50 and 54 are no longer able to meet fire and rescue service fitness standards for fighting fires. Beyond the age of 55, two thirds fail to meet the standards.
Although the Government has previously claimed that older firefighters could be moved to less physically demanding roles, FBU research found only a handful of ‘redeployment’ opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning mass sackings would be inevitable.
A spokesperson for the FBU told us outside Wrexham fire station this afternoon: “We have been paying into a pension scheme for ages, and used to pay 11% of our wages, which allowed people to retire at 55. Now the government want people to work until they are 60, paying 13% of wages into their pension.
“The issue is if they want people to work until they are 60, they might not be fit enough to do such a physically demanding job. Do they public want 60-year-olds helping them in an emergency? “ould you expect someone in the army to continue fighting until they were 60?”
Earlier this week, Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: “This initial strike is a warning shot to government. Firefighters could not be more serious about protecting public safety and ensuring fair pensions. Governments in Westminster and Cardiff have simply refused to see sense on these issues.
“It is ludicrous to expect firefighters to fight fires and rescue families in their late-50s: the lives of the general public and firefighters themselves will be endangered.
“None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety.”
Below is a video of firefighters in the town centre leaving the station to a round of applause from supporters at the scene.
(Oddly enough in an age based discussion the age of the Wrexham.com reporter present was commented on – with 22 years old being ‘a bit young to be a reporter’. Hopefully this report proves otherwise!)