Fears that giving firefighters a ‘fair’ pension will open the floodgates for other public sector workers to demand the same are fuelling the government's legal fight as negotiations with the Fire Service union continue to break down, it has emerged.
Three times defeated in their row with the FRSA, the States Employment Board (SEB) has said it is determined not to set a precedent for other public sector employees to demand what they deem an “unaffordable” pension scheme.
The dispute arose after the public sector pensions were switched to a scheme known as ‘CARE’, which is more affordable from a government perspective. However, the firefighters say it’s discriminatory as long-serving officers won’t reap the benefits of their contributions prior to the changeover.
Pictured: The firefighters say that negotiations with the SEB are continuing to break down.
The FRSA also say that the board has failed to see through the dispute resolution process agreed between firefighters and their employer as an alternative to strike action so the island is never left without emergency cover.
With negotiations between both sides failing, the issue has come before the Employment Tribunal and Royal Court, with the government defeated at each turn.
Following the latest defeat, government officials vowed to engage with the FRSA, but recently turned down a new offer put forward by the union to avoid the next Court of Appeal hearing in September.
Justifying their continued legal challenges, the SEB told Express that letting firefighters contest the pension scheme might pave the way for other public sector workers to do the same, making pensions for the whole service “unaffordable".
Pictured: The dispute is due to return to the Royal Court once again in September.
A spokesperson said: “SEB has a responsibility to consider these claims in the wider context of the affordability and sustainability of pensions schemes for the whole public service.
“Put simply, if the claims were to succeed, this would make the current public service pension schemes potentially unaffordable, and SEB must be mindful of the impact on thousands of public sector employees, and not just firefighters.”
The SEB says that it “continues to explore options with the FRSA to seek a resolution to their claims”, but the union paints quite a different picture, saying that the Board have “refused” to engage in a “sustainable resolution” with firefighters.
Posting on their Facebook page, the FRSA wrote: “Instead of reaching resolution, they still prefer to try and appeal in the Royal Court a decision that they have already lost three times and force firefighters again to pursue age discrimination claims in the Employment Tribunal at the Jersey tax payers’ expense.”
This morning, Craig Channing, the President of the Fire and Rescue Service Association (FRSA), rejected the government's claims that the case could lead to other groups seeking better deals.
"The other groups have had legal ballots and have agreed to the new scheme. I do not believe there is a recourse to back on that. We are the only one who haven't had a ballot.
"Playing the long game is going to be detrimental. If a tribunal decides they have to deal with us, it will set a precedent in law. Other groups will then be able to seek better deals. It's in the best interest of the SEB to deal with us but they do not want to deal with us."
Mr Channing said the Union has met with the SEB and that although the compensation figures each side put forward differed, the firefighters offered to "meet in the middle." However, he said the SEB rejected it, preferring to "just carry on regardless."
"It seems like they are waiting for a judge, a Jurat or a Court to tell them 'now you have to deal with it' rather than make the decision themselves."
The next appeal in the ongoing dispute is scheduled to be heard by the Court of Appeal on 23 September this year.
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