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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 17:09 GMT
Union 'will fight fire cuts'
Andy Gilchrist arrives at Acas on Wednesday
Andy Gilchrist has adopted a defiant tone
Andy Gilchrist has vowed to fight to prevent the government reducing numbers of firefighters on duty at night.

The Fire Brigades Union leader's pledge may have been an obstacle in the talks aimed at ending the bitter dispute which took place on Wednesday at the conciliation service Acas.

Mr Gilchrist said moves by the firefighters' local authority employers and the government to cut night cover would put the public at risk.


To suggest that a firefighter who works 48 hours a week should put in extra time is plain dangerous

Andy Gilchrist
FBU
He cited official figures showing that far more people are killed or injured during the hours of darkness than during the day.

Mr Gilchrist left the talks after 90 minutes, saying he expected to return at some stage to continue the talks.

The FBU had been due to begin another eight-day strike at 0900 GMT but decided to suspend that action when they were invited to Acas.

It is hoped some progress will be made to reconcile the union's 40% pay demand and the government's stance that any increase over 4% must be funded by modernisation changes.

Mr Gilchrist has indicated the Acas mediation offers a glimmer of hope that the deadlock can be resolved.

The local authority employers are expected to talk to Acas officials on Thursday, with the possibility that negotiations between the two sides could resume by next week.

They say the meetings should not be conciliatory and arbitration hearings but should be sessions where the Acas team can act as chair to allow the two sides to negotiate between themselves.

But it is clear cuts in night fire cover will be one of the main obstacles, with Mr Gilchrist citing figures showing that during the night shift, between 6pm and 9am, an average of 241 people died in fires, 92 more than during the day.

firefighters
Firefighters want better pay
Over 7,000 people were injured in fires, nearly 5,000 more than during the day and the number of children who died averaged 22, twice as many as during the day.

He said: "If you get a call at 3pm to a house fire there is a certain amount of adrenaline but that is nothing to getting that same call at 3am because you know it is almost certainly going to involve people in a serious situation."

Mr Gilchrist will explain to Acas officials moves to save billions through fire prevention, rather than cutting up to 10,000 jobs with the closure of stations.

However, both sides agree that about 80% of the modernisation agenda being pushed by the employers and the government is acceptable.

But there are three main sticking points.

BBC labour affairs correspondent Stephen Cape said the problem areas were:

  • joint control centres between ambulance, police and fire services
  • changes to the shift system
  • firefighters' overtime.

    The FBU leader said firefighters already worked long hours, insisting: "To suggest that a firefighter who works 48 hours a week should put in extra time is plain dangerous and we will not contemplate it."

    Mr Gilchrist also complained on Wednesday that a government report on how the fire service should tackle a major terrorist attack had not been put into practice more than a year after completion.

    He said the report suggested training and equipment improvements costing 280m which had not been implemented.

    If the talks fail, there could be an eight-day strike from 16 December until Christmas Eve.

    Further industrial action is planned for January, February and March next year.

    The controversial inquiry into the fire service, headed by Sir George Bain, is due to report around 16 December.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
    "At the moment these are just talks about talks"
    The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
    "The union is very keen to stress it's willing to talk about modernisation"

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    02 Dec 02 | Politics
    02 Dec 02 | Politics
    02 Dec 02 | Business
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