FIREFIGHTERS are to be balloted on whether to accept a Scottish Government deal on pensions, with a rejection raising the likelihood of strike action.
Scottish firefighters had voted earlier this year in favour of industrial action, but the strike was postponed after the Scottish Government offered to mitigate against Westminster’s proposals to increase firefighters’ retirement age from 55 to 60.
The executive of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is today expected to approve a consultative ballot on whether to accept the Scottish Government’s offer.
And union leaders warned that, should the deal be rejected, a strike could be back on.
Union members south of the Border yesterday staged a four-hour strike after UK ministers and the Welsh administration refused to scrap proposals that would see firefighters who opt to retire at 55 facing a cut to their pension of 5 per cent a year.
Roddy Robertson, Scotland’s FBU official, said the consultative ballot set to be approved today was “like another strike ballot again”. He warned that any Scottish strike would take place before 23 October – the legal deadline for the action FBU members previously backed.
The SNP government’s offer to the FBU would mean firefighters aged 40 as of last year would not be forced to work until the age of 60, with employees also protected from dismissal over their fitness levels.
However, Mr Robertson, a member of the FBU executive, said a Scottish strike was still possible due to continuing concerns about firefighters being forced to work to 60 in a life-threatening and physically demanding job. He said: “It’s only fair and right that Scottish firefighters have the opportunity to decide whether enough has been done to avert action in Scotland or not.
“If members reject the deal on offer, it’s likely that the strike would be back on again before 23 October. It’s almost like another strike ballot again, although it’s a consultative ballot officially.”
The FBU executive meeting in London today is expected to either take a neutral position or recommend Scotland’s firefighters reject the Scottish Government’s offer.
However, Mr Robertson said the SNP’s offer “probably won’t be enough to say that the dispute is finished with”.
Scottish Labour MP Frank Doran warned: “The fact that the FBU feel the need to consult their members on this issue clearly shows that they don’t trust the SNP to deliver on this.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said any contingency arrangements during a strike would be an operational matter for the fire and rescue service, but ministers wanted to “reach a mutual agreement” with the FBU. She added: “The FBU has not called strike action in Scotland at this time and that is to be warmly welcomed.”