Firefighters across the UK have hailed the decision by the government in Northern Ireland to amend pensions legislation as a â€œvictory for common senseâ€ â€” and a demonstration to Westminster that negotiations can work when both sides are committed.
After months of lobbying and dialogue with all political parties, last week an amendment to pensions legislation on firefightersâ€™ pension age was supported by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, said: â€œThis deal demonstrates that when both parties are open-minded and reasonable, trade unions and government can work together in the interests of public services, employees and the public.
â€œAlthough the legislation is not perfect, politicians of all parties in Northern Ireland have put others to shame by acknowledging the strength of our evidence and reflecting it in policy.
â€œExpecting large numbers of firefighters in their late 50s to fight fires and rescue families is not just ludicrous: itâ€™s dangerous to the public and to firefighters.
â€œPoliticians in the rest of the UK must listen to the evidence and find a pensions deal that is workable and fair.â€
Although the 2013 Public Service Pensions Act imposed a Normal Pension Age of 60 for firefighters in England, Scotland and Wales, the legislation did not apply to Northern Ireland.
Although the legislation does not set a lower Normal Pension Age (or retirement age) in Northern Ireland, it does allow the regulations affecting firefighter pension schemes to take a more flexible approach, and the FBU said that it would be working on ways to ensure this flexibility creates the fairest possible policies.
FBU officials presented the firefightersâ€™ case to the Finance Committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 9 October 2013.
Proposed contribution increases for 2014 still apply for Northern Ireland (as well as England and Wales).
Meetings between FBU officials and Westminster Fire Minister Brandon Lewis have been scheduled for 22 and 28 January, with strikes in England and Wales remaining a possibility (despite being avoided completely in Scotland and Northern Ireland).