Firefighters in Northern Ireland will be able to retire at 55 and keep their full pension under a deal being offered by the Executive.
The department of health has agreed to demands from the Fire Brigades Union who claimed a retirement age of 60 did not reflect the occupational demands of firefighting.
The proposals emerged on the eve of a strike in England and Wales which will see members of the FBU walk out in the latest stage of a long-running dispute over changes to pensions and the retirement age. However, the generous offer – which the union still claims is not perfect – sparked criticism from some.
Ukip MLA David McNarry said: "I can't see any viable reason for people retiring at 55. It is going to set precedents for other key workers, and the country simply cannot afford it."
Firefighters in England and Wales will walk out for seven hours from 10am today amid ongoing deadlock in the row over pensions. The FBU claims the coalition government is trying to drive through proposals which could see firefighters forced to retire at 55 because of declining fitness, losing up to 47% of their pension. It said Stormont had now put forward proposals to allow firefighters to retire at 55 without financial penalty.
As part of the proposals, firefighters would be expected to pay 12.2% of their salary into the scheme, it added.
In addition, the proposals are said to include a reduced "accrual rate", meaning that firefighters would receive less money per year once they retire.
A spokesman for the department of health said the offer followed a period of negotiation between DHSSPS officials and the FBU. A public consultation on the proposals will follow in the autumn.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union in England and Wales will walk out between 10am and 5pm today in the latest stage of a long-running row over changes to pensions and the retirement age. Today's walkout is 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.