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Government’s firefighter appeal extinguished… again

Government’s firefighter appeal extinguished… again

Thursday 18 April 2019

Government’s firefighter appeal extinguished… again


The government's hopes of victory in a long-running and heated row with firefighters over pensions have been extinguished by the island's highest court - and potentially thousands of taxpayers’ pounds wasted in legal fees.

The States Employment Board’s (SEB) latest attempt to defend themselves has been left in tatters by the Royal Court’s finding that the employer did indeed act “unreasonably” in failing to properly engage with disgruntled firefighters left worse off under a new pension scheme.

The dispute centres on a claim by the firefighters’ union – the Fire and Rescue Service Association (FRSA) – that its members deserve recompense after being left worse off when their pension scheme was changed.  

It’s claimed that the new pension scheme, known as CARE, doesn’t reflect the service of long serving firefighters as it only bases an employee’s pension on average earnings spanning their entire career rather than the last three years before retirement.

As a result, the union was requesting financial compensation from the SEB “to offset the financial detriment which it claims its members will suffer, when their pension provisions change.”

This plays out on a background arrangement between the union and the SEB in 2010 which paid each full-time firefighter £6,000 for agreeing not to take industrial action in response to employment-related disputes in case it impairs the safety of the island, with the proviso that any conflicts would rather be resolved by a formal ‘fast-track’ dispute resolution procedure. 

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Pictured: Unable to take strike action, the firefighters' union took their dispute to the Employment Tribunal.

However, in this pension row, it was found that the SEB failed to properly engage in this resolution process, despite this prior agreement.

Having already lost the case twice at the Employment Tribunal – once originally and once on appeal - the SEB decided to bring another appeal further up the chain in the Royal Court

However, their third bid to defend themselves was also in vain as Royal Court Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith has today passed his judgment upholding the rulings of the Tribunal and maintaining the victory of the firefighters’ union. 

This comes after members of the Fire Service unanimously rejected the Government’s latest pay offer in relation to annual salary increases for 2018/19.

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Pictured: The second appeal was heard in the Royal Court.

At their second appeal, the SEB’s lawyer Advocate Sylvia Roberts, tried to rerun the same points her client made at Tribunal, arguing:

  • firefighters are not contractually entitled to join a particularpension scheme, only the one designated by the States Assembly – in this case, CARE;
  • the dispute was with the political decision of the Assembly to change pension arrangements, not with the SEB;
  • the Tribunal’s application of the law was too “simplistic” and they had actually misapplied the law in this case.

The Commissioner, however, was more convinced by the Advocate Rebecca Morley-Kirk, appearing for the FRSA, who urged at appeal that “it is certainly in the gift of the SEB to give its members extra pay”, especially considering that these firefighters “are on a daily basis risking their lives.

“That might be something that the employer may wish to take into account when it’s dealing with arbitration,” she added.

In his written judgment, handed down to counsel this morning, Commissioner Clyde-Smith disagreed with every single argument put forward by the SEB’s Advocate, stating: “In my view, the Tribunal was perfectly entitled to reach that conclusion on the evidence before it. Indeed, I find it difficult to see what other conclusion it could have reached.”

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Pictured: The States Employment Board has been defeated for a third time on this issue.

Bringing his judgment to a close, the Commissioner ruled: “In conclusion, I agree with Advocate Morley-Kirk that the Tribunal’s decision was correct in law and that the appeal therefore fails.”

Announcing the news on social media, the FRSA commented: "We would like to thank Commisioner Clyde-Smith for his consideration and are pleased that he has found in our favour.

"However, it is particularly disappointing that SEB have continued along this path & have, for a third time, wasted thousands more pounds of taxpayers' money on their vexatious appeals when ample opportunity existed to resolve the situation."

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