The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has registered to appeal an Employment Tribunal decision which ruled that a government move to justify changes to firefighters’ pension arrangements was not age discriminatory.
More than 6,000 firefighters have brought age discrimination claims following the introduction of the 2015 Firefighters’ Pension Scheme (FPS). On 1 April 2015, the FPS changed from a final salary arrangement to a career average revalued earnings (Care) scheme.
The firefighters’ argument centres around transitional provisions which permitted firefighters who were aged over 45 on 1 April 2012 to remain in the original scheme. Employees aged under 45 years on this date were automatically transferred to the 2015 arrangement. They have claimed that this discriminates against younger employees on the grounds of age.
During the tribunal proceedings, the government stated that it is legitimate to provide protection for members who are closer to retirement age.
The ET ruled against the FBU, concluding that the introduction of the new pension scheme was a social policy aim of the government.
The FBU has subsequently filed a Notice of Appeal to take the case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in a bid to reverse the decision by the ET. Its grounds of appeal include questioning the government’s legitimate aim for discrimination, and the impacts this has on both younger and older firefighters; issues around discrimination based on sex and race, because younger firefighters are often from a more diverse backgrounds; and whether the transitional provisions and process is appropriate.
Matt Wrack, general secretary at FBU, said: “[The ET ruling] is obviously very disappointing. Our lawyers believed that we have a strong case and that remains their view. A differently constituted tribunal considered a parallel claim regarding the Judicial Pensions Scheme, and reached the opposite conclusion a month ago.
“We have always known that this would be a long fight and we anticipated that the case would be appealed by the government if we had won. We regard the transitional arrangements, which force younger firefighters into having to work on to age 60 are totally unrealistic. We will pursue the argument for our members in whatever venue is likely to deliver us the correct result.”
John Hanratty, consultant at law firm Nabarro, added: “Firefighters, particularly senior firefighters, have had a number of issues over the past few years, from the reduction of the lifetime allowance which has impacted on them because of the early retirement provisions that firefighters have, right through to the recent Employment Tribunal judgement which was age related.
“It’s an interesting judgement in light of the judgement for the Judicial Pension Scheme, where judges were treated completely differently and it was [ruled to be] age discrimination for judges to be treated on the grounds of their proximity to retirement age. So I think it’s going to be an interesting outcome. [The firefighters’ case] has now gone to the Employment Appeal Tribunal to see whether there is going to be some sort of parity between judges and firefighters.”