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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 12:36 GMT
'Useful exchange' in fire talks
firefighters
The threat of further strikes remains
Fire service employers have described a meeting with the arbitration service Acas as "very useful".

But they warned there is not yet any sign of a negotiated settlement in the bitter pay dispute, or of renewed face-to-face talks with the Fire Brigades Union.

The secretary of the employers' side of the National Joint Council for Firefighters, Charles Nolda, said: "Acas have got a key role to play in calming this dispute down.

"But everybody's going to have to be patient - this isn't going to be resolved quickly."

'Unrealistic'

Mr Nolda said he was hopeful that arbitration would not be needed and that the dispute could be settled through talks.

firefighters
Firefighters want better pay
He said: "The only people who can resolve this dispute in the end are the FBU and the fire authorities talking until they reach an agreement."

But Mr Nolda said it was clear that the employers had to work within the framework set by the government.

He said it was "unrealistic" to expect ministers not to exert their influence on any settlement, because the government provides the bulk of the money for the fire service.

"The agreement that's eventually signed will be signed by the fire authorities and the FBU and it will not be easy," he added.

"But what we have got to do is to come up with a solution that everyone is happy with."

'Cobbled together'

The meeting was held after reports claiming that a review was recommending pay rises of up to 40% were described as "completely inaccurate".

Andy Gilchrist
Andy Gilchrist says Acas offers a glimmer of hope
A spokesman for the review team, chaired by Sir George Bain, said: "The report has not even been written yet. The figures have not come from us.

"It has been cobbled together to produce a neat little theory, but it just does not add up."

The team is due to report its findings on 16 December, the day the next eight-day firefighters' strike is due to start.

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

'Common cause'

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) leaders spent 90 minutes at the conciliation service on Wednesday explaining their ideas on how the fire service could be modernised.

General secretary Andy Gilchrist said he expected to return to Acas for further talks.

But Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson warned the government not to make "an enemy of the firefighters when so many working people feel a common cause with them".

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

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

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  Jonathan O'Neill, Fire Protection Association
"We now need committment from the government"

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04 Dec 02 | UK
02 Dec 02 | Politics
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