Firefighters have welcomed an offer from the government of Northern Ireland to break their deadlocked row over pensions ahead of a fresh strike.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union in England and Wales will walk out for seven hours from 10am today in a long-running row with the coalition over controversial changes to pensions and the retirement age.
The union has warned that firefighters will be forced to retire at 55 because of declining fitness, losing up to 47% of their pension.
The Northern Ireland government has put forward proposals that would allow firefighters to retire at 55 without financial penalty, said the union.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “The offer by the Northern Ireland government clearly demonstrates that allowing firefighters to retire at 55 is both sensible and affordable for government.
“The proposals are by no means perfect, but nevertheless demonstrate that when both sides are committed to resolving conflict through dialogue, industrial action can be avoided.
“It’s time for the governments in the rest of the UK to take note of the progress we have made in N Ireland and agree a more affordable, workable and fair pension scheme than is currently on offer.”
Firefighters in England, Scotland and Wales are also taking part in action short of strikes, meaning they will not undertake voluntary overtime or help train anyone drafted in to cover for strikers. Today’s walkout will be the 14th strike taken by the FBU since the dispute started.
Fire brigades have made contingency plans, including the use of private firms to cover for FBU members taking industrial action.
But the public has been warned to be extra vigilant as not every 999 call will be dealt with, especially if they don’t threaten lives or buildings.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Firefighters would rather not be going out on strike again this weekend, but, with the Government hell-bent on pushing ahead with cuts to their pensions, they have little choice.
“Firefighters frequently put their lives on the line to keep the public safe, but although they are more athletic and stronger than most of us, even they would struggle to pass the necessary fitness tests as their 60th birthdays approach.
“If they fail the test, it’s likely they will be sacked or forced to retire on a much lower pension. That can’t be right, nor is it fair, and ministers should think again.”