FIREFIGHTERS across Wearside are taking part in a four-day strike as the latest stage of an increasingly bitter national dispute.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union in England walked out at 6pm last night and set up picket lines outside fire stations across the country on one of the busiest weekends of the year because of bonfires and firework displays.
A series of strikes has been held over the past 18 months in protest at changes to pensions and the retirement age, which the union claimed could lead to firefighters losing their job if they fail fitness tests in their late 50s.
The Government has confirmed its plans to reform firefighters’ pensions, saying the scheme has been refined in response to consultations. A statement said the average firefighter retiring at the age of 50 today is expected to live and draw a pension for 37 years after a 30-year career.
Sunderland FBU spokesman Gordon Chalk said the union had been left with no choice but to take action, with the Government in England the only one not to make concessions in the dispute.
“Everybody is disappointed that we have had to take this action,” he said.
“We do not want to put anyone at risk. All the devolved governments have reached some sort of agreement but the English government has done nothing to resolve the issue.
“The Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh governments have all come to an agreement on this problem .”
Ministers say the Firefighters’ Pension Scheme is the most expensive in the public sector and forecast to have a cashflow deficit of almost £600million by 2019.
The Government says it will set out the terms of the reformed scheme in time for giving fire and rescue authorities to implement changes before they come into effect next April.
No firefighter aged 55 or over will face being left without a job or a good pension, said a statement: “These steps will benefit all firefighters, not least women.”