HAMPSHIRE firefighters have walked out again today in the latest chapter of a bitter national dispute with the Government.

County crews are were back on the picket line at 2pm for a 12-hour stoppage in an ongoing row over pensions.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union will also strike between 10am and 3pm tomorrow.

The Government has criticised the industrial action and said that “robust contingency plans” were in place to protect the public during the strikes.

The union claims that ministers are “sitting” on proposals that could end the row that were drawn up six weeks ago.

Hampshire Fire Brigades Union chairman Nigel McCullen said that the action was unfortunate but unavoidable.

He said: “It’s a necessary step. We don’t want to be out on strike, it’s not how we operate, but we are fed up with the Government over our pensions.

“We will sit back down with them at any time to discuss proposals but they have not come up with any at the moment.

“We got into talks between January and now that were progressing well but it has got to a point we really need to see some proposals from them and this is how we tell them we are serious.

“It’s something we are uncomfortable doing but the Government are messing around with our lives and our families’ futures.”

The union said that firefighters are having to pay higher pension contributions, face working into their late 50s and could be sacked because their fitness declines as they get older.

However a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “The Government is clear that further change can be made through constructive engagement, but not under the shadow of industrial action, which only serves to damage firefighters’ standing with the public.

“The deal on the table gives firefighters one of the most generous pension schemes in all the public sector, and the proposals protect the earned rights of a higher proportion of members than any other public sector scheme.

“Nearly three-quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015. Under the new scheme, a firefighter who earns £29,000 will still be able to retire after a full career aged 60, get a £19,000 a year pension, rising to £26,000 with the state pension.

“An equivalent private pension pot would be worth over half a million pounds and require firefighters to contribute twice as much.”