Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Talks held to avert South Yorkshire fire strike

FBU rally
Firefighters went on strike several times last year

South Yorkshire fire authority bosses have agreed to refer a long-running dispute over changes to firefighters' shifts to an advisory panel.

The authority and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have been arguing about the terms under which they would begin talks with independent arbitrator Acas.

The authority has now agreed to union calls to use in-house mediators.

An eight-day walkout by firefighters is still planned from Wednesday, the FBU told BBC News.

Union members were being informed of the latest development at a meeting on Tuesday, an FBU spokesman said.

The dispute has now been referred to the National Joint Council - a forum for collective bargaining between fire service employers and the Fire Brigades Union.

Move welcomed

Jim Andrews, chair of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Authority, said: "The current dispute has lasted well over a year. It is of no benefit to anyone, least of all the public in South Yorkshire.

"We have today decided to refer the matter to the National Joint Council, hopefully for a speedy resolution."

Ian Murray, FBU regional secretary, said: "We're pleased the fire authority accepted our proposals to involve the national employers and union representatives.

"They have helped resolve numerous disputes in the last few years."

A separate two-day strike planned to start on 25 January was cancelled on Friday in anticipation of the meeting.

The planned action is part of a long-running dispute over proposals to change the length of working shifts.

A series of strikes were held last year after 744 firefighters were told they would lose their jobs if they did not accept 12-hour day and night shifts.

Last month the FBU and the fire authority agreed to alternative 11-hour day shifts and 13-hour night shifts, but the proposal was rejected by union members in a vote.

The fire authority then revived its plans for 12-hour shifts and started consultations with staff.

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