FIREFIGHTERS in Bolton are set to walk out again over the May Bank Holiday weekend, taking the number of strikes in their ongoing row with the government over pensions to 12.
Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in England and Wales will strike for a total of 22 hours over the weekend, angry at the government passing legislation to increase their retirement age from 55 to 60.
FBU Greater Manchester brigade secretary Gary Keary said this means firefighters who retire at 55 now stand to lose 45 per cent of their pension.
The FBU has accused the government of “burying its head in the sand” but fire minister Brandon Lewis has hit back, calling the strike action “unnecessary”.
Crews at Bolton Central, Bolton North, Farnworth and Horwich will leave their posts between noon and 5pm on May 2, 2pm and 2am on May 3, and for five hours from 10am on Bank Holiday Monday.
The FBU has also announced a ban on voluntary overtime between noon on May 2 and noon on May 9.
Mr Keary said: “The membership in Greater Manchester is strong and adamant that they want changes made to the government scheme.
“It would now be illegal for us to oppose the retirement age of 60 as a law has been passed but we are opposing the terms if you retire early.
“The last thing we want to do is strike but it comes to the point where there is little else available to us.
“The government are clearly not listening to any evidence that has been produced over the last three years.”
The most recent fire strike was on January 3 when crews walked out for the 9th time, with further action since put on hold as talks were held.
The FBU sent a letter to the government giving April 24 as a deadline by which it demanded to see an improved pensions offer for members.
When this passed, its executive unanimously agreed the 10th, 11th and 12th strike dates.
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "After three years of negotiations and an intense four months presenting an indisputable, evidence-based case for the need to ensure a pension scheme that takes account the unique occupation of firefighting, the Government is still burying its head in the sand.”
Fire minister Mr Lewis said: "By calling unnecessary strike action, the FBU has shown it is not serious about finding a resolution to this dispute for its members and stands only to further damage firefighters' standing with the public.”
Similar contingency plans to the previous strikes have been put in place by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, with the public warned that it may not be possible to attend less serious callouts such as small rubbish fires and lift failures.