The Firebrigades Union (FBU) has said it will challenge the dismissal of Ricky Matthews, an FBU executive who was sacked by the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Service for participating in a lawful strike.
Thousands have protested in defence of Ricky Matthews, and against the fire service’s clear victimisation of a firefighter exercising the right to strike. There has been no investigation or disciplinary hearing, and Matthews’ request for an appeal was refused by the employer.
The strike in question saw 30,000 firefighters walk out over a four day period at the end of October. This was followed by a 24 hour strike on Tuesday – the 48th period of industrial action since the dispute began.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said; “Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Authority chose not to take a legal challenge against our strike call when they had the chance and instead left this contentious legal issue untested in court. The FBU had a QC ready and waiting to defend our strike call but went unchallenged. We will contest the authority’s position that Ricky took unlawful strike action.”
The FBU is in a long running dispute over pensions. The government is proposing that firefighters serve until they are 60, instead of 55. It has been demonstrated, using the governments own data, that natural ageing over the age of 55 means that a significant number of these firefighters will not pass the mandatory fitness test, and will therefor face dismissal or a significantly reduced pension.
Firefighters are now facing the prospect of receiving a reduced pension, five years later than promised, despite having paid into one of the most expensive pension schemes in the public sector.
The dispute, now in its third year, applies mainly to firefighters in England, after those in Northern Ireland have lifted their dispute due to an improved offer, and those in Scotland and Wales will take lesser forms of industrial action in response to genuine negotiations.
Matt Wrack commented; “It is sickening that the only part of the UK where the fire minister refuses to engage in genuine negotiations is England. We cannot accept that firefighters in England will be penalised simply because the Westminster government refuses to consider the evidence or even read its own reports on the risks to firefighter fitness related to ageing”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said; “It’s disappointing that ministers have not been able to agree a pensions deal with firefighters when the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all made progress towards a settlement.
“Ministers seem determined to force through these harsh and unfair changes that even their own advice suggests are wrong and unworkable. These would either see firefighters suffering huge health and safety challenges as they get older and less fit, or experiencing massive cuts to their pensions if they feel unable to stay in the service as their retirement approaches.
“The TUC supports the FBU’s call for a full Parliamentary debate on the government’s complete and utter mishandling of this issue.”