Horsham firefighters were out in force this week as they joined the national protest over changes to their pension arrangements.
The fire station in Hurst Road was closed all day on Tuesday November 4, as crew members stood outside the entrance to the building next to a sign which read ‘closed due to pension theft’.
The protest has been organised by the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) and runs hand in hand with the recent four day strikes that firefighters across the country have been taking part in.
This is the second strike since August that crews throughout England have been part of in a dispute over their pension schemes.
A Horsham fireman, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We have had great support from members of the public. There have been lots of people coming along to see us.”
FBU Secutary for West Sussex Francis Bishop, who was at the protest in Horsham, said: “The pension campaign is a long running campaign. We started discussing the new proposed pension for firefighters with Governemnt in 2011. We continued discussions, making sound arguments which have never been countered by anyone, until autumn last year before ever taking industrial action.
“The pension scheme is an occupational pension scheme, not an OAP. Therefore it is designed to kick in when the employee is no longer able to continue to perform their role.
“Now the fitness standard for firefighting is not an arbitrary one, it has been calculated by doctors based on the job a firefighter is expected to do. The fitness standard is to have a VO2 max of at least 42. Therefore, when a person can no longer achieve this standard through no fault of their own, it is reasonable that they be retired and given access to their pension.
“The normal pension age (NPA) in England for this scheme is 60. While the FBU thinks this is not appropriate, there is nothing we can do about it, as that is as the law stands. What we can do however, is urge Government to put in place adequate provision within the scheme for the numerous people who will fail to achieve 42VO2 Max before 60. The Government has put in place provision, but it is unrealistic and inadequate.
“So a firefighter retiring at 55 would receive a pension actuarially reduced by 21.8 per cent, before taking into account the extra loss through the five years loss of accrual. This is not acceptable to us, as the likelihood is that most male firefighters may just get to 55, but almost none of our female firefighters will. This is the findings of a governmet sponsored review, the Williams Review.’’
Mr Bishop added: “The other countries in the UK have all listened to exactly the same arguments as England has, and all of them have either settled on more realistic proposals, or are in the process of doing so.
“It seems extraordinary that in a time when Government is trying to encourage people to join workplace pension schemes, encourage people to save, encourage people to plan for their future, it seems hell bent on destroying an excellent pension scheme and replacing it with one that is unrealistic, unworkable and not fit for purpose.’’
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is facing £1.6m in cuts. Last month West Sussex County Council voted in favour of budget changes which will see one fire engine lost from Horsham firestation and a second moved out of Storrington.