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Striking firefighters lobby Watford MP in pensions dispute
Firefighters covering south west Hertfordshire descended on Watford MP Richard Harrington’s constituency office when they took strike action on Wednesday afternoon over a pensions dispute.
Crews marched from Watford Fire Station, up High Street, to the office in The Avenue. They are angry over proposals they say would see them working longer hours and paying more for less generous pensions.
The Conservative MP was not there to meet protesters but emailed a letter for them to his office when informed they were on their way.
However, firefighters accused him of treating them as if they were “stupid”.
Hertfordshire Fire Brigade Union secretary Tony Smith said: “Unfortunately Richard Harrington wasn’t there when we arrived because he said he didn’t know we were coming.
“However, there was a letter there for us, signed from him and dated today. It is just nonsense. “Does he think we are stupid? Well, we’re not. It is ludicrous, at a time they have given themselves an enhancement in their pensions and their expenses.”
In his letter, Mr Harrington apologised for not being there to meet the firefighters in person and said he would have been if he had known of their intention.
He said: “May I firstly thank you for your continued hard work and dedication in performing your jobs, often in very difficult circumstances and please be assured, I appreciate you feel very strongly about the issues on which you are striking.
“I have met with, or corresponded with, many firefighters in Watford on these issues of pensions, conditions and working ages and your arguments have not fallen on deaf ears.
“I have made representations on your behalf to the Government and I have also previously arranged for a meeting with firefighters from Watford with the then Minister, Bob Neill MP, during which the firefighters were able to put across their arguments face to face.
“I would be more than happy to meet again in Watford to hear and discuss your points of view. “My office will arrange a meeting as soon as possible.
“Changes to pensions and conditions have been necessary in light of very difficult financial circumstances the Government has inherited and in the face of wider changes to pensions and meeting the needs of an ageing population. “The Government has endeavoured to make the changes as fair as possible and as reflective as possible of the unique needs and challenges of the service you provide.”
Earlier in the day crowds had gathered at Watford Fire Station and at 12.30pm, striking firefighters from Watford, Rickmansworth and Bushey began a walk around Watford.
Following the protest, Mr Smith added: “It was very well supported and there wasn’t anyone in the High Street who wasn’t in support of our cause.
“The aim of this strike was to get across that if this Government is going to make life hard for firefighters across Hertfordshire, we will make life hard for Conservative MPs in Hertfordshire.
“We are very pleased and I think we have got the message across to all three Tory MPs.”
Hertfordshire’s fire service said during the strike they attended six incidents including a small fire in a St Albans park, a kitchen fire in Hemel Hempstead, and a car fire following a crash in Elstree.
Roy Wilsher, chief fire officer and director of community protection said: “The contingency plans that were put in place have stood up well. Crews who remained at work did an excellent job and we have been delighted by their dedication and commitment.”
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