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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 February 2008, 09:32 GMT
Fire strike threat over pensions
Firefighters in south east Wales
Firefighters are threatening action if the pension issue is not resolved
Firefighters in Wales and across the UK are preparing for strike action over an end to ill-health pensions.

Unions say changed rules mean injured firefighters, who cannot be redeployed elsewhere, face being sacked without immediate pension entitlement.

Fire service responsibility is devolved to the assembly government which could act to resolve the dispute in Wales.

But local government minister Dr Brian Gibbons said the issue is being considered on a UK-wide basis.

Two hundred and ninety four Welsh firefighters were injured on duty in 2005-06, with 28 suffering major injuries.

Because serious injuries could cut short their careers, firefighters pay 11% of their earnings into their pension - more than many other public sector workers.

The whole point of devolving responsibility for fire from London to Cardiff was to enable the Welsh Assembly Government to set its own agenda in fire service terms.
Mike Smith, Fire Brigades' Union

But in 2006 the rules were changed and now if an injured firefighter cannot perform their usual role, and a suitable job vacancy does not exist elsewhere, he or she can be dismissed and any pension withheld until they are 60.

AMs across the governing Plaid and Labour parties say they are concerned that crews are being ordered into fires knowing if they are badly injured they could be sacked.

The Fire Brigades' Union (FBU) is threatening UK wide action if the rules are not changed soon.

They say the UK Government could easily resolve the dispute by reverting to the version of the guidance on ill-health retirements which existed until 2006, or the Welsh Assembly Government should issue guidance for Wales on its own.

Mike Smith of the FBU said: "The job is just as dangerous as it ever used to be and it's totally unpredictable.

'Anomalous situation'

"You don't know when members are going to be injured or indeed killed."

Mr Smith added: "The whole point of devolving responsibility for fire from London to Cardiff was to enable the Welsh Assembly Government to set its own agenda in fire service terms."

He said Dr Gibbons could issue the guidance "if he were so minded."

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central, said she feared an impact on morale and recruitment.

"Responsibility for fire services has been devolved and so we should be able to correct an anomalous situation that applies to firefighters in Wales.

She added: "We need to consider the wider picture here because firefighters need to be secure in the knowledge that their entitlements are protected."

Dr Gibbons told BBC Wales he "fully understood" the concerns expressed by the FBU.

He said the issue of ill-health retirements, though devolved, is being considered on a UK-wide basis to ensure consistency and clarity.

The assembly government will decide on a course of action once the working group investigating the problem has concluded its work.

The FBU wants the matter devolved to the assembly government



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