A strike by firefighters could go ahead after they voted in favour of indsustrial action over pensions.
A ballot saw members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) back industrial action by 18,277 votes to 5,166, a majority of 78%.
The union said planned changes to pensions were “unaffordable and unworkable“, would impose an increase in members’ contributions and would put firefighters at greater risk of dismissal without access to a proper pension if they cannot maintain fitness standards as they approach the retirement age of 60.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “We cannot expect large numbers of firefighters in their late-50s to fight fires and rescue families without creating danger to the public and firefighters.
“We have repeatedly raised safety concerns and provided strong evidence to back it up but the Government just isn’t listening.
“This result is a clear indication of the anger felt by firefighters. It’s still not too late for common sense to prevail if the Government are willing to return to the negotiating table. None of us want a strike, but we cannot compromise on public and firefighter safety.”
Currently firefighters can retire on ill-health grounds before 60 and retain their pension but under the Government’s plans, if a firefighter is deemed unfit before they turn 60, they will lose part of their pension.
A recent Government review found that over half of current firefighters between the ages of 50 and 54 are no longer able to meet fire and rescue service fitness standards for fighting fires. Beyond the age of 55, two thirds fail to meet the standards.
And although the Government has previously claimed that older firefighters could be moved to less physically demanding roles, FBU research found only a handful of redeployment opportunities in fire and rescue services, meaning mass sackings would be “inevitable”.
North East fire services have today said they were “disappointed” that the row has not yet been resolved but have reassured members of the community that robust continuity plans will be in placed should a strike go ahead.
Stuart Errington, deputy chief fire officer at Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We are still hopeful both the Government and the FBU will commit to further construction negotiations to avoid the threat of a national fire strike.
“The Fire and Rescue Authority, however, has a duty to provide an emergency response service during any strike period. The plans we have in place will ensure that the people of County Durham and Darlington can still receive a professional response in the event of a fire or other emergency.”
Chief fire officer Tom Capeling, of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, said: “The service will use trained fire service officers and staff who will be supported by additional staff we have recruited and trained in recent weeks, including recently retired firefighters, individuals who were successful during our last recruitment process, former military and specialist personnel.
“This plan is not designed to replicate the excellent service our firefighters provide every day of the week, however it is designed to provide a core service in the event of industrial action.”
Strike action must be taken within 28 days of the ballot taking place. The union has not set strike dates.