FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack says government “cost ceilings” would have put a straitjacket around negotiations over fire fighters retirement age


FBU members will not take part in the strikes on November 30th.

The decision not to ballot for industrial action, taken by members of the union’s executive committee, does not rule out strikes in the future. The news comes after the government made a key concession on changes to the fire fighters’ pension scheme.

In notes posted earlier this week on the FBU website, General Secretary Matt Wrack says Treasury ministers had agreed to extend negotiations over the “cost ceilings” on pensions. He says: “we have stated that these could set a financial ‘straight jacket’ for discussions around pensions. We have raised these concerns with various ministers, explaining our view that setting these without firstly considering other issues would clearly undermine the legitimacy of any discussions.”

The government-commissioned Hutton report on the future of public sector pensions had recommended imposing upper limits on the cost of individual schemes in an effort to limit taxpayers’ exposure to what ministers regard as “unfunded liabilities”.  The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, LibDem minister Danny Alexander said in June that the government intended to extend Lord Hutton’s proposals to individual pension schemes, making each scheme subject to separate negotiations and – potentially – different timetables. Unions have repeatedly challenged government claims that the public sector schemes are unaffordable in the long term.

UnionNews understands that the government and a number of local authority employers have agreed to begin a 12-week consultation on cost limits being considered for the fire fighters’ scheme. While this will provide scope for FBU negotiators to revise some of the most damaging aspects in the Coalition’s pensions agenda – such as proposed changes to the retirement age for fire fighters – it also means that the FBU will not be in a position to notify employers of a “trade dispute” (as required by the anti-union legislation covering strike ballots) until that consultation is completed early next year.

An official source said the government “would have been crazy not to try” to make concessions to some of the 14 unions planning joint strike action next month, in order to reduce the impact of what is still likely to be the largest single mobilisation of workers in the UK for a generation.  The union is expected to issue a public statement calling on FBU members to support any action on the 30th of November in whatever way they can.

A statement by FBU general secretary Matt Wrack is here


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