Norfolk firefighter Mark Marshall explains why he will be taking strike action

New pension arrangements have prompted firefighters to strike.

New pension arrangements have prompted firefighters to strike. - Credit: Archant © 2009

I don't write letters very often, and I rarely write about work for fear of my words being used against me, but I feel I must put down my reasoning behind taking strike action so people who know little about my job can understand.

I'm going on strike over our pension scheme. The first period of action is tomorrow, 12pm-4pm.

I have been a firefighter for 20 years next year. Someone explained their thoughts to me on the fire service sometime ago, 'It doesn't belong to the chief fire officer, or the politicians, or even the firefighters. We look after it while we are here, and it's our responsibility to make sure it's as good as it was when we took it over, if not better.'

Those words have always stuck with me, and I think 60-year-old firefighters would provide a much worse service to the public. I work with plenty of guys around 50, and can see how it's getting harder for them to deal with the physical demands of their job. What they have to do, in a compartment fire especially, is extremely arduous. How many 60-year-olds do you know who you'd like to rescue you from a house fire? I know some can do it, but the vast majority (and the evidence is there to back this up) will struggle as they get near retirement.

There is no requirement to do physical exercise when you are at work but... the argument levelled at us is that we must keep fit on our days off. The beauty of that is that if we are injured, say, running, and cannot work, because it is not an 'in-service' injury we face the prospect of no pension until later in life and dismissal. Much cheaper.

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When I joined the fire service, I joined the 1992 pension scheme. It costs me over £300 a month and I always knew it was an 11pc contribution and would take me 30 years to fill up my pension pot.

So I knew I'd reach 58 and retire.

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Then, in 2005, our pension scheme changed. The government decided the scheme was not affordable, and set up a new 8pc, 40 year scheme, but only for new entrants. This scheme was established for the long-term affordability of fire service pensions. The retirement age was set at 60.

But my union did not take action against the scheme, because it did not affect any of its members.

Because everyone who was already a firefighter was ring-fenced there was no legitimate dispute. A union can only represent its members.

The difference this time is that not everyone is ring-fenced. The government have gambled that if they protect the firefighters nearing retirement, they would not vote to strike. They gambled that the older guys would not care about the younger ones. But I'm delighted they do – 80pc who voted, voted yes.

Maybe our political leaders thought we held greed in as high esteem as they do. They didn't take into account how we in the fire service try to look after each other – how it is in our nature to stick together and protect the vulnerable in society.

We stand by to help those in need – including our own.

I disagree with the encouragement of greed, and that big multi-national organisations need to pay less tax for the greater good.

But my point? Why do I think it's okay to strike?

Well, because in 2005 a pension scheme was launched, designed to fix the fire service pensions for the long-term.

In 2008, greed caused the banking crisis, and all of a sudden our three-year-old scheme isn't actually affordable now. We need a new scheme, much more expensive to the individual, to replace it.

About 13pc contributions and 40 years. Tens of thousands of pounds more for each person paying into the scheme, to get less out at the end of it. Can you see why I and my colleagues feel a little hard done by?

You might not agree with me, but if you see a picket line outside a fire station, please remember we took action because we feel we are paying more than our fair share, and that we are losing money each time we do.

Maybe it's because we're greedy, but then aren't our government rather happy to encourage greed in individuals? Or is that only for some of us? The ones with enough money as it is?

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