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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 May, 2003, 21:58 GMT 22:58 UK
Firefighters' leaders back deal
Firefighters have held several strikes
Firefighters' leaders have urged acceptance of a peace deal to end their long-running pay dispute.

The executive of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) voted to recommend that a "final" deal worth 16% over two-and-a-half years should be accepted.

The recommendation will be put to a recalled union conference next month when delegates from across the country will have the final say on whether the damaging dispute will finally come to an end.

The FBU's executive has been discussing whether to recommend the settlement all afternoon, following talks with employers earlier on Tuesday.

The 16% deal will result in qualified firefighters earning 25,000 a year by 1 July 2004.

It is important the voices of all FBU members are now heard
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott

A rise of 4% will come into immediate effect and be backdated to last November. This will be followed by average rises of 7% from October and a further increase of about 4.2%.

The union had previously rejected 16%.

But general secretary Andy Gilchrist said the deal proposed on Tuesday "differs considerably from previous offers".

One of the main sticking points had been the FBU's fear that management would axe thousands of jobs and change shift pattern without consultation.

But under the proposed agreement a panel with an independent chairman, to be appointed by agreement, will rule on any staffing disputes.


The new deal also gives an assurance that overtime will not be used to cover for any staff shortages.

The third concession the FBU is claiming as a victory is that from July 2005 firefighters' pay will be tied to that of workers in professional and technical occupations, rather than manual workers as agreed after the last national fire strike in 1977.

An employers' source said the proposed agreement "deals with our concerns and with their concerns".

"We have talked things through and I just hope it will be acceptable."

Picket line
Firefighters fear reform means job cuts
But there may be strong opposition among the rank and file.

Sub officer Paul Clarke, 32, who is based in Cambridge and is the chairman of the local FBU, said: "It is certainly not a done deal as yet.

"It is not only a matter of pay. FBU members will not accept anything that will give the public a worse service than they have already."

Time was running out for a deal, with the government rushing legislation through Parliament to enable Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to impose a settlement - which could be a worse deal than the 16% offered.

Mr Prescott welcomed Tuesday's breakthrough.

A statement issued by his department said: "We are pleased the two sides have made such positive progress towards a negotiated settlement.

"It is important the voices of all FBU members are now heard.

"We have always said pay has to be linked to modernisation of the fire service.


"Modernisation will save more lives and lead to a better, more efficient service to the public."

On Monday the leader of Britain's biggest union, Unison, warned relations between the government and the union movement could sour if a pay settlement is imposed on the firefighters.

The union's leader, Dave Prentis, said the two sides in the dispute should be allowed to talk without the interference of the government.

Mr Prentis accused ministers of making it harder for the union and the employers to resolve their differences.

FBU leaders warned last week that they would announce further strikes if their pay dispute was not resolved by Tuesday.

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"They are bound to meet a lot of scepticism from some firefighters"


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