Firefighters have scolded government officials for entering into negotiations over a long-running pension row "under false pretences" - after being served notice of a fresh legal appeal less than one hour after a meeting with them.
Members of the Fire and Rescue Service Association (FRSA) - the firefighters' union - yesterday sat down with members of the States Employment Board (SEB), which is responsible for public sector workers' pay and work conditions, in what they thought would be a productive first attempt to resolve a dispute.
Union President Craig Channing told Express that the meeting began at 09:00 and finished at 13:00.
But just before 14:00, however, they were served notice of a new appeal against a recent Royal Court decision - one in a string of many that supported the firefighters' push to renegotiate the pension deal. The SEB alleges, however, that the Royal Court erred in law when considering the case.
Mr Channing the FRSA were left “disappointed” by this most recent development, saying that it has created an atmosphere of “no trust” between the emergency service workers and their employer.
Pictured: The FRSA President said that the fresh legal challenge has created an atmosphere of "no trust" between firefighters and their employer.
The row between the FRSA and SEB has been burning has been burning on for six years,despite the FRSA having won their case twice at Tribunal and once higher up the chain in the Royal Court.
The row arises centres on a States Assembly decision made in 2013 to change the public sector pension scheme to one which bases pension arrangements on a career average of earnings rather than on salary from the last three years before retirement.
Firefighters say that they are worse off under the new pension arrangements and they haven’t been given the opportunity to air their concerns within a formal dispute resolution process which was promised to them in return for their surrendering their right to strike back in 2010.
For this financial detriment, the firefighters’ union say that they are entitled to remuneration, but the SEB are refusing to concede that they “acted unreasonably” as they mount their third appeal in this case.
Pictured: The firefighters say they are entitled to financial recompense.
Mr Channing explained that the union entered into talks “without prejudice” yesterday with the Board, meaning that they were initial “exploratory” discussions prior to any other formal processes taking effect such as arbitration.
“We were under the impression that the employer was trying to seek a resolution, not trying to waste a bit of our time and their time whilst they were already planning to go to appeal.
“There was no mention of that apart from the fact that both parties were free to explore all avenues. We believe we were led under false pretences to go to the meeting,” Mr Channing said, adding: “We were fully intending to go to the meeting to try and find a way forward informally before we go to a formal resolution prior to any means of going to either arbitration or dispute resolution.”
The FRSA President added that, after the SEB’s latest defeat, the union “didn’t for one minute think that the employer would have the audacity to try and appeal against a Royal Court decision.”
When asked what kind of message this sends to his members, Mr Channing said that the overriding feeling is one of disappointment, but there is also a sense that the SEB doesn’t hold “firefighters in high regard and they’re showing complete contempt for the work that we do.”
The President continued: “At the moment we can’t strike and we know that, but we feel that’s being used against us.”
Mr Channing further warned that, if the SEB’s appeal is upheld by the Royal Court it could risk undermining the 2010 agreement where firefighters surrendered their right to strike in exchange for a promised alternative of a ‘Fast-Track Resolution Procedure’, meaning that firefighters could potentially resort to industrial action.
Should the SEB succeed in their appeal, Mr Channing cautioned: “Because at the moment there is no trust between firefighters and the employer, the States Employment Board, the SEB run a real risk of firefighters taking industrial action if this is upheld. That is being considered by not only the union but also firefighters themselves.”
Regarding the fresh appeal, the Deputy Chair of the SEB, Constable Richard Buchanan commented: “SEB is pursuing this case through to appeal as we believe it is correct to uphold the right of the States Assembly to introduce progressive public sector pensions’ legislation without the need to compensate pension scheme members for those changes."
A spokesperson said that “no further comment will be made by the SEB on this case until the matter has been determined by the Court of Appeal.”
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.