Firefighters in new legal fight against Government's pension 'robbery'

FIREFIGHTERS have joined  prison officers, civil servants and other public sector workers in launching legal action against the Government over pensions “robbery”.

The Fire Brigades Union launched the legal action at the High Court on Friday. Picture: JPImedia

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), Prison Officers Association (POA) and the GMB are seeking a judicial review over the government’s withholding of improved pension benefits from hundreds of firefighters and hundreds of thousands of public service workers.

The unions say that the government is in breach of a key part of the new public service pension schemes which came into force in April 2015 under the Coalition Government.

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The regulations for these schemes require that if the formal valuation of the pension schemes show the cost to the Government has increased or dropped beyond its own predetermined level, then the employee benefits must be reduced or improved accordingly, say the unions.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack. Picture: FBU

The latest valuation in 2016 demonstrated that the costs of the scheme were below this predetermined level and that from April 2019, the benefits for thousands of scheme members should have been improved, it is claimed.

However, then-Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, announced in January 2019 that the process of implementing these improved benefits would be “paused” until the Government digested the consequences of an earlier age discrimination case, brought by firefighter members of the pre-April 2015 schemes, which the Government had lost.

The FBU said this delay is nothing more than a “dirty trick” which seeks to pass on the cost of a number of unlawful discrimination cases, including that brought by the FBU, onto members of the new 2015 scheme - estimated by the government to be £4bn per year

The outcome of the case could affect anyone who joined the pension schemes for those working in local government, civil servants, NHS, teachers, armed forces, police, or firefighters on or after 1 April 2012.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, said: “Less than six months ago we beat the government in court over pensions and their unwillingness to listen to our concerns, and we are ready and willing to do it again to get our members and thousands of public service workers the improvements they are owed.

“Ministers know full well that they are in breach of the regulations which clearly state that if the cost of financing the scheme drops, then the benefits should be passed onto members.

“Refusing to accept this and pausing the process amounts to a dirty trick which now means many of those in the scheme will have had their improvements withheld for over a year – worst still is that this robbery has been carried out by millionaire ministers.

“We are pleased to have the support of our fellow unions POA, PCS, and GMB and we are determined to see justice prevail.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "We are attempting to reverse the great pensions robbery that our members are being forced to endure.

"The regulations are clear and PCS members and other public sector workers are paying 2% more than they should have to into their modest pension schemes.

"We are demanding the money due to members from the pension valuation should be paid immediately.

"The skulduggery from ministers must end and we will pursue all legal avenues to get pensions justice for our members."

Susan Harris, legal director of the GMB, said: "We have joined with our sister unions in this action to demonstrate the anger of our members over the Government's decision to ignore the terms of the scheme which would have benefited them.

"Many of these workers are now being lauded by the Government as key workers, vital to the running of the county.

"When the Government took this decision - which it has refused to re-consider despite our representations - were they just people whose rights could be ignored?"

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, said: "The Government have continually failed to listen to our concerns regarding pensions. In a pension scheme that was imposed on our members, Government have been found to have been discriminatory against some of them in a court of law."

POA chairman Mark Fairhurst added: "We are fed up with the Government's platitudes about how grateful they are to public sector workers during national emergencies, but then continue to deny us what is rightfully ours in relation to excessive pension contributions. They need to stop looting from our pension pots and repay what they owe to our members."

A Government spokesman said: "The Government will consult later this year on proposals to respond to the pensions issues identified by the McCloud judgement.

"At the same time, we will also provide an update on the cost control mechanism that assesses the value of public sector pensions, which was paused as a result of the judgment."