Legal moves over sacked firefighter
Legal action is to be taken over a sacked firefighter, union leaders have decided, as thousands of firemen and women staged a fresh strike in their long-running row with the government over pensions.
The Fire Brigades Union said it will challenge the dismissal of Ricky Matthews, an executive member of the FBU, who was sacked by the Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Service for taking part in a previous strike.
Firefighters in England mounted picket lines across the country after walking out for their 48th period of industrial action since the dispute flared.
The union said that after three years of discussions, firefighters still faced a "stark" choice of being sacked or having their pension severely reduced.
FBU members in Scotland and Wales will take other forms of industrial action but will not be on strike because of "genuine" negotiations, while those in Northern Ireland have lifted their dispute because of an improved offer.
The union attacked the Westminster government, saying it had presented evidence which had created "considerable" political opposition to controversial changes to pensions.
The coalition was accused of pressing ahead with a scheme which was "unfair and unworkable".
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "Firefighters in England are reluctantly calling further strike action as a direct result of the Westminster government's failure to listen and negotiate over pensions.
"Firefighters are asking the Westminster government to immediately open genuine negotiations to resolve this dispute. They should also hold a House of Commons debate to fully scrutinise the legislation and there should be a parliamentary vote on the regulations.
"We are not going to give up or go away. Firefighters will fight for however long it takes to secure a fair pensions deal. This dispute will not end as long as the regulations remain unchanged
"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.
"We have won the argument on this issue for the past three years. We face a government which refuses to negotiate or even to listen to reason. Therefore this fight will carry on."
Thousands of firefighters were joining a demonstration in Aylesbury in support of Mr Matthews.
Fire Minister Penny Mordaunt said: "This strike action is completely unnecessary and we are disappointed by the FBU's decision, which does nothing but damage the good reputation of the fire and rescue service.
"The Government has worked hard to give firefighters one of the most generous pensions in the public sector.
"The scheme that is currently before Parliament provides greater ill-health and death benefits than the Fire Brigades Union's preferred approach and I believe that the approach we are using will be fairer on all, supporting those wishing to work longer - something absolutely essential if the firefighters' pension scheme is to remain sustainable."
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."