Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Tuesday, 20 April 2010 16:49 UK

Talks to end firefighter dispute in Essex break down

Talks between Essex Fire Service and the Fire Brigades Union broke down when a key document was withdrawn.

Chief fire officer David Johnson said he was "disappointed" at a failure to accept an offer guaranteeing no compulsory redundancies and more money.

Keith Flynn from the union said the offer was not rejected but firefighters wanted a few points clarified.

Staff were being trained to take over in case of a walk-out but the union said they did not intend to strike.

The dispute concerns the loss of 49 firefighter jobs and changes in practices.

"The belligerent attitude of the Fire Brigades Union in Essex beggars belief," Mr Johnson said.

The draft proposals are sufficient as the basis of a potential settlement with work on a small number of key areas of clarification
Keith Flynn

"We have made an offer that provides Essex firefighters with guarantees that will keep their conditions amongst the best in the UK.

"The FBU negotiators were made fully aware that if this latest offer was not accepted it would be withdrawn.

"So after hours of negotiation and consultation, we are back where we started."

Deputy chief fire officer Gordon Hunter has initiated the first phase of Operation Gian to provide cover in the event of a strike.

All senior officers will undergo refresher fire appliance driver and breathing apparatus training.

"It now seems highly likely that the union will carry out their threat to escalate action," he said.

The Fire Brigades Union called on Mr Johnson to reconsider his decision to withdraw his offer of a settlement and end negotiations.

'Requires respect'

Union secretary for Essex, Keith Flynn said: "I am sure he will realise, when he has given himself time to consider the matter calmly, that union officials have worked hard for a settlement.

"Firefighters do not want industrial action. All it requires is a little mutual respect between him and the men and women in his service, and a settlement can be agreed.

"Mr Johnson needs to return to the negotiating table.

"The draft proposals are sufficient as the basis of a potential settlement with work on a small number of key areas of clarification."

The breakdown in talks concerns the abolition of a monthly consultation committee where unions and management talked over ideas.

The union wanted clarification on several other items in the document but both sides believed they were close to a final settlement.

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