Banbury firefighters joined thousands of others across the country this morning (Thursday) as they walked out as part of the longest strike so far over ongoing pension proposals.
Members of the Cope Road station formed a picket line as part of a national 24-hour strike to show frustration in the ongoing negotiations with the government and fire minister Brandon Lewis.
Another strike is set for 10am-5pm on Saturday, June 21.
Steve Allen, Oxfordshire Fire Brigades Union secretary, said: “The outlining feeling is one of anger. Fire Brigade Union officials put these proposals on the table to the government back in March and we are saddened, angered and frustrated that it has had to come to this.
“The 24-hour strike is quite a serious step for firefighters across the country, as well as Banbury. We do not want to be out on strike, this goes against all of what we stand and train for. We have been forced to take this measure. This is a show of strength and determination from us and we would expect Brandon Lewis to take his head out of the sand.”
Under the government’s proposals, firefighters who are forced to retire before the age of 60 as a result of ageing will have half of their pensions taken away. The alternative they faced is to be sacked.
The Government’s own report, published in December by Dr Tony Williams, found that large numbers of firefighters would be unable to maintain operational fitness until the age of 60.
Before 2010, firefighters already contributed one of the highest proportions of their salary towards their pensions (11 per cent) and in April this increased for the third year running to 14.2 per cent.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), has challenged Mr Lewis to take part in a televised debate on the proposals, which the union say are unworkable, unaffordable and unfair.
Mr Wrack said: “The government is ignoring all the evidence from its own reports on these proposals and has failed to counter our arguments in three years of negotiations.
“Their attacks will radically damage the fire and rescue service and it’s only fair that the public are given a chance to see the minister himself challenged over these ludicrous proposals.
The FBU is ready to resume discussions whenever the government is ready and will any serious offer to members for consideration.
Mr Allen added: “Do you want a 60-year-old firefighter coming to save you? There are those who can maintain the high level of fitness needed, and others who might not be able to.
As well as the heavy toll it has on the body plus the added stress, they will put themselves at risk, the people they are working with at risk and the people they are trying to save at risk.
“Firefighters will be asked to carry on with a job they are no longer fit to do.”