Firefighters ready to battle against pension changes

Firemen answer a 999 call
Firemen answer a 999 call
From left, Southampton City Council leader Simon Letts, Portsmouth City Council leader Donna Jones, and Isle of Wight Council leader Jonathan Bacon sign the formal application for a Solent Combined Authority in 2016

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‘HANDS off our pensions.’ That’s the message from firefighters in Hampshire, as the government reviews public sector pension schemes.

Under the plans, fire crews would have to contribute more money into their pension, retire later, and potentially get less back.

There are also fears firefighters face dismissal if they cannot pass fitness tests, if the retirement age is raised from 55 to 60.

And by 2015, some firefighters would be putting in up to 15 per cent of their wages into the scheme.

Nigel McCullen is a representative of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU). He said: ‘We know there’s a pension time-bomb on our hands.

‘Firefighters are living for longer as things become safer.

‘The government changed the scheme once in 2006, which means we have a two-tier pension scheme at the moment.

‘Now they want to change it again, and it doesn’t seem like a good deal to us.’

The Public Service Pensions Bill is making its way through parliament.

As firefighters are living longer, the government wants to extend the retirement age, in order to bridge the gap.

But a government review, which was published at the end of last month, found it is unlikely people would be fit enough to work as front-line firefighters after 55.

It also found more people are likely to opt out of the scheme entirely.

‘If you reach 60, you will not be as fit as you were when you were 25,’ added Mr McCullen.

‘We don’t have those back room officer type of jobs available to us.

‘This means we would have to go early.

‘The pension would be frozen, and people could face a five-year gap before they can access it.

‘And if too many firefighters opted out, then the whole scheme would collapse.’

Union meetings have been taking place to get an opinion on the proposals.

Mr McCullen added: ‘We don’t know when the government decision will be, but it’s imminent.

‘We will fight these plans, which means we could take industrial action.’

The bill is due to be debated on April 23.