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EDITIONS
Monday, 17 February, 2003, 17:01 GMT
Fire settlement 'must not be imposed'
Glasgow rally
Andy Gilchrist says the strike is a working class struggle
The general secretary elect of the TUC, Brendan Barber, has said the government would be unwise to try to force a settlement in the firefighters' pay dispute.

His warning came as leaders of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) prepare to meet the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, on Monday.

The meeting with Mr Prescott will be the first since the deputy prime minister announced controversial moves to impose a settlement on the firefighters.

The latest 48 hour strike has entered its second day, with a woman died in a mobile home fire in Bristol.

Perhaps the time to be a little less than reasonable is here

Andy Gilchrist
FBU leader

Mr Barber said he was optimistic serious negotiations could get under way within days to agree a fair settlement for firefighters.

But he told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost: "This dispute is only going to be resolved by negotiation."

The dispute had caused "hard feelings in a lot of quarters", Mr Barber added.

FBU leader Andy Gilchrist, speaking at a rally in Paisley, Scotland on Sunday, said he was still hoping for "fair and open talks" with the government.

"A suitable agreement can be reached but I really don't know what John Prescott is willing to do about the total mess he's got himself into in recent days".

Earlier, Mr Gilchrist was uncompromising when he addressed a 5,000 strong rally in Glasgow on Saturday.

"We have suspended strikes, we have cancelled strikes, we have been reasonable.

"Perhaps the time to be a little less than reasonable is here." he said.

Fresh walkouts

Mr Gilchrist said he would not accept a settlement of anything less than 30,000 a year, and pledged to rebuff any calls for job losses.

He described the strike as a classic "working class" struggle.

Factory fire
Thousands of troops are on fire duty

The FBU rallies in Glasgow and Bristol followed Mr Prescott's threat to impose a deal.

The government is preparing to reactivate the Fire Services Act of 1947, repealed in 1959, which will allow the government to specify pay, terms and conditions.

Before the talks with the government, Mr Gilchrist and senior union officials will also meet the contact group of union leaders set up by the TUC.

At the meeting officials are expected to press for fresh walkouts, as employers insist anything more than a 4% pay rise needs to be paid for by modernising the fire service.

The employers want strikes suspended before they will return to the table.

Body found

Councillor Ted George, chairman of the employers, wrote to Mr Gilchrist to stress that when no further strikes were timetabled, talks could resume at the conciliation service Acas.

Employers officials said there was no reason why negotiations could not resume on Tuesday, but only if the FBU decided to pull back from naming further strikes.

Meanwhile military personnel have been out in force covering for the firefighters whose strike ends at 0900 GMT on Monday.

Firefighters in Bedminster in Bristol broke their strike just after 0300 GMT to help troops tackle a mobile home fire in which a 49-year-old woman died.

Troops were on the scene within six minutes and quickly joined by firefighters who discovered the body.

In Scotland troops tackled a warehouse blaze in Edinburgh after being called to the scene at 0630GMT.

By mid morning they had brought the fire under control but it was unclear when 16 evacuated residents would be allowed to return to their homes.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary-elect
"The right to strike is a very basic right"
 VOTE RESULTS
Do you support the fire strike?

Yes
 44.83% 

No
 55.17% 

6558 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion


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28 Jan 03 | UK
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