Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 13:33 UK

Fire boss plea to call off strike

Mark Smitherman
Mark Smitherman urged the union to think seriously about strike action

A chief fire officer has issued a final plea to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to call off a 24-hour strike planned by crews in South Yorkshire.

Hundreds of firefighters are due to walk out at 1800 BST on Monday as part of a long-running dispute over senior officers' plans to change shifts.

The county's chief fire officer said a team of managers was well prepared to provide cover.

The FBU said it had been left with "no option" but to take strike action.

In a last ditch appeal to the union to call off the strike, chief fire officer for South Yorkshire, Mark Smitherman, said: "I would beseech the Fire Brigades Union even at this late stage to think very, very seriously about the impact they are having on the communities of South Yorkshire."

The fire authority is behaving with the callous indifference of a 1930s pit owner
Ian Murray, FBU regional secretary

Mr Smitherman said managers and volunteers will be manning 15 frontline fire engines and a series of other appliances would be used for minor incidents.

The service normally has 33 fire engines on call.

The action comes after 744 employees were threatened with the sack if they did not accept new employment contracts to work 12-hour day and night shifts.

The fire authority wants crews to work the new shifts in place of the current nine-hour days and 15-hour nights.

But firefighters have argued this would present families with a range of problems, including childcare arrangements.

New contracts

Earlier this week, the fire authority offered to suspend the plans to allow further negotiations with a condition that crews would work 10-and-a-half hour day shifts and 13-and-a-half hour night shifts until 31 March.

Firefighters' protest
Fire crews held a rally at the authority's meeting last month

But the union said it had received no formal offer from the fire authority and was pressing ahead with strike action.

Ian Murray, the union's regional secretary for South Yorkshire, said it would call off the strike if the fire authority withdrew a threat to sack 744 firefighters as means of imposing new contracts.

He added: "The fire authority is behaving with the callous indifference of a 1930s pit owner.

"As long as their threat of mass sackings remains, there will be strikes."

A further 24-hour strike is planned for 23 October.

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