The President of the Fire Service's union has called on the government to return to the negotiating table over a simmering six-year row, claiming that firefighters are “being asked to work longer, pay more and receive less at the end".
The comments follow the latest knockback for the States Employment Board (SEB), whose unsuccessful fight to defend their actions within the row over firefighter pensions has seen their original defeat at the Employment Tribunal reinforced by two subsequent failed appeals.
President of the Fire and Rescue Service Association (FRSA) – the union which represents the disgruntled firefighters – Craig Channing has spoken out about the concerns of union members in the face of a pension scheme that he maintains is “extremely detrimental to firefighters".
The issue arises from a States’ 2013 decision to change the public sector pension scheme to one – known as CARE – which bases the pension on a career average of earnings rather than on salary from the last three years before retirement.
Pictured: The SEB's third attempt to defend themselves has been dismissed by the Royal Court.
Mr Channing said that another problematic aspect of the new scheme for the Fire Service is that it raises retirement age from 55 to 60: “We’ve never had firefighters go from the age of 55 to the age of 60… We just don’t know how firefighters are going to cope physically and it’s a demanding role in that later on in life. So, to be penalised so much if you leave early I think was going to be extremely detrimental to firefighters."
The new scheme, Mr Channing says, will leave his union’s members worse off – meaning they should be entitled to compensation to offset their losses.
“We have firefighters who will see a financial detriment of anywhere between £20,000 moving forward to over £200,000 of loss of earnings through a poorer pension scheme and through a 100% increase in contribution costs. So, all we wanted really was the employer to understand that.”
Pictured: The firefighters have been left 'out of pocket' by the change to their pension scheme.
The FRSA President added that, in comparison to other public sector workers, firefighters are “being asked to work longer, pay more and receive less at the end and we don’t believe that is fair."
Restricted in how they could proceed in the dispute due to a 2010 agreement with the SEB where each full-time firefighter was given £6,000 to give up their right to strike lest it endanger the island, with the added caveat that they would be entitled to a ‘fast-track’ dispute resolution scheme – firefighters had to take their grievance to Tribunal when this process wasn’t followed.
“We had a framework in place that if gave up our right to strike, we would be able to reach a fast-track resolution process and unfortunately, the employer’s not keeping their side of the bargain,” Mr Channing explained.
All this comes days after the news that the FRSA had also unanimously voted against the latest pay offer from the government relating to salary increases for 2018/19.
The Tribunal originally ruled in favour of the FRSA, finding that the SEB did not properly engage in this agreed dispute resolution process to find a solution to the firefighters’ concerns with the new pension scheme.
Pictured: Firefighters want the SEB to engage in the dispute resolution process they were promised in exchange for giving up their right to strike.
This decision was upheld when the SEB mounted another appeal which was described by the Tribunal as “vexatious” and, last month, they decided to rerun the same arguments in Jersey’s highest court – in vain.
In the immediate wake of the SEB’s appeal being dismissed by the Royal Court, Mr Channing told Expressthat the decision provoked “mixed emotions” throughout the Service. On the one hand, he said, members were “extremely pleased” that Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith found in their favour, but this was sullied by the reality of the SEB refusing to accept the original Tribunal decision that they had acted “unreasonably".
“We’re slightly annoyed I suppose and perplexed that the employer has taken three attempts to try and take this ‘vexatious’ appeal to the Court,” Mr Channing said.
Despite this, the FRSA President is hopeful that the SEB’s latest defeat will mean that the six-year old dispute can finally move forward: “I don’t believe the employer can hide away from the facts of the case… we need a fair outcome for firefighters going forward. I think it’s in [the SEB’s] best interest to get round the table and try and negotiate a fair outcome.”
From the other side of the dispute, the thrice-defeated SEB had only this to say: “The States Employment Board are disappointed with the judgment from the Royal Court and will study the judgment in detail before responding further.”
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