Firefighters in North Kirklees join national strike

TAKING ACTION FBU rep Matt Herrin with firefighters on strike at Wakefield Fire Station.

TAKING ACTION FBU rep Matt Herrin with firefighters on strike at Wakefield Fire Station.

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Hundreds of fire service staff in West Yorkshire joined a nationwide strike this afternoon (Wednesday).

Residents had been asked to take extra care as staff walked out between noon and 4pm.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the action would leave just five of the region’s 16 engines crewed by fully trained and experienced staff.

But West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service insisted contingency measures would mean emergency cover was available across the county.

Before the strike, assistant chief officer Dave Walton said: “We have an established contingency plan developed as part of our standard business continuity arrangements.

“We are confident in our ability to provide fire cover, albeit on a restricted basis.”

All staff at on duty at Batley, Dewsbury and Osdal stations backed the strike, as did the majority at Cleckheaton.

Some off-duty staff also joined colleagues on local pickets.

The strike was part of an ongoing dispute between the FBU and the Government about plans to change pensions and increase the retirement age from 55 to 60.

West Yorkshire’s FBU brigade secretary David Williams said: “It’s taken us two years to get to this point. We haven’t resorted to a strike before because we were in negotiations and thought they were going well. Now we have no option.

“Firefighters aren’t capable of that role at 60. Not only are the firefighters at risk but so are the people we rescue. We need young, fit, strong, capable firefighters.”

A firefighter at Dewsbury, who did not want to be named, said he backed the action because the plans affected everyone’s pensions.

He said: “They’re expecting us to pay more over a longer period of time for a lesser pension.”

He said proposals to sack anyone who failed to meet certain fitness levels at the same time as increasing the retirement age were unfair.

“To expect someone at 60 years old [to have that level of fitness] is quite a feat,” he added.

Mr Williams said: “Across West Yorkshire every member of the FBU took action and stepped out the doors at noon.

“It really helps us to try to achieve what we want to achieve, which is get a deal as quickly as possible.

“The last thing we need is for it to be long and drawn out. This is about drawing the Government back to the negotiating table.”

He said there had been no major incidents while the action took place.

“Everybody in West Yorkshire is still safe now we’re back to work,” he said. “The feedback we’ve been getting is people are supportive. They don’t want to see 60-year-old firefighters.”

He added that further action could not be ruled out if the Government was unwilling to resume negotiations.