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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Firefighters settle dispute
Firefighters in London during one of the strikes
The vote brings an end to strikes over the pay deal
The long-running firefighters' dispute ended on Thursday with agreement on a 16% pay increase.

Firefighters voted three to one in favour of the deal at a special union conference in Glasgow.

It had been agreed by the union executive in May.

Firefighters would receive 4% more in their next pay packets, followed by 7% in November and the remaining increase by next summer to take the average salary to 25,000.

Firefighters' deal
25,000 pay by July 2004
Modernisation
Consultation about changes

It would also be tied to the controversial modernisation of the fire service.

Fire Brigades Union (FBU) chief Andy Gilchrist said the deal, more than three times the rate of inflation, was "a decent deal for people who provide a first-class service".

Asked about settling for 25,000 instead of the higher union claim, he said: "We have always said our people are worth 30,000. This is the first phase on the way to achieving that."

He admitted there were members who were "frustrated, angry and disappointed" at the deal, but the majority voting at the conference indicated the way forward for the union.

'Best settlement'

Mr Gilchrist gave a passionate 20-minute speech to the delegates urging them to accept the offer.

"It is the best settlement won by any groups of public sector workers in this pay round."

If anyone thinks we can launch indefinite strike action...they are coming from a different universe
Andy Gilchrist
FBU chief

Mr Gilchrist told delegates that further strikes should not be held.

"If anyone thinks we can overcome the state with a few periodic strikes then they are living on a different planet.

"If anyone thinks we can launch indefinite strike action and keep the members together they are coming from a different universe."

The dispute - which began at the end of last year, has seen a series of strikes by firefighters across the country, with the army drafted in to provide cover using Green Goddess appliances.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott welcomed the union's decision, his spokesman said.

'Sell-out' "We believe this was the right decision and the best way to resolve this long-running dispute."

The spokesman said the government's plans for the fire service will be set out shortly in a White Paper.

Firefighter James Scott from Glasgow, who heckled Mr Gilchrist when he arrived, said: "This is double talk and weasel words.

If this goes through it will lead to fire station closures and deaths
Firefighter James Scott

"It is a sell-out. It will lead to fire station closures and deaths."

His opinion was echoed by colleague Steve Green, from Bromley, who said he believed Mr Gilchrist should resign.

"He has done everything to undermine our action. He has cancelled strikes and the deal on offer now is the same as one we have already rejected."

'Watershed'

Local Government Association policy director John Ransford had urged firefighters to accept the deal, claiming it would benefit both the various parties in the dispute and the public.

"We really now have a chance to change the fire service, make it more effective in terms of protection of the public and make sure the people who work in it are properly rewarded," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme before the vote.

"We really do believe this is a watershed."

Up to 1,000 delegates from all 58 brigades attended Thursday's conference.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"There were many firefighters who just wanted the dispute over and backed the leadership"



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