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13 November 2013, 13:56
Firefighters on the south coast have joined a strike for the fourth time, accusing the Government of worsening its proposals about pensions and the retirement age.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) walked out across England and Wales today (Wednesday 13 November) for four hours from 10am, forcing brigades to use contingency plans again, including hiring contractors to replace strikers.
Picket lines were mounted outside fire stations for the fourth time in recent weeks.
No major emergencies have been reported in Hampshire, the Isle of Wight or West Sussex during the strike.
The union said firefighters who are forced to retire before 60 because of declining fitness could now receive pensions of just over £9,000 a year as a result of the latest Government proposals.
Previous proposals were withdrawn because of the failure to reach agreement, and the FBU said the Coalition now plans to "punish" firefighters who are forced to retire at 55.
General secretary Matt Wrack said:
"After 35 years of service, and paying at least £4,000 a year, firefighters could now receive just over £9,000 a year or the sack simply because fitness declines as they get older.
"Firefighters simply want an affordable and workable pension that reflects the job we do.
"But with employee costs going up, firefighters are being priced out, threatening the scheme's sustainability.
"We're keen to resolve this through negotiations, but the Government is simply ignoring all the evidence we have submitted.''
The union said most firefighters pay £320 or more a month into their pensions, and from April 2014 this will rise for the third year in a row to over £340.
Many firefighters also face a fourth consecutive rise of 2.2% expected in 2015, said the FBU, which argued that the scheme is one of the most expensive in the public or private sector and one of the least generous.
The union has also claimed that the pension proposals were designed to fail because they ignored the physical demands of the firefighters' occupation.
"Evidence suggests that at least two-thirds of the current workforce would be unable to maintain the fitness standards required by the fire service beyond the age of 55.
"Such firefighters would face the prospect of being dismissed or seeing their pension reduced by almost half,'' said the FBU.