Head of Acas hopeful of a fire dispute deal

The head of Acas is optimistic that the firefighters dispute can be resolved
through arbitration, despite the announcement of more strike action last week.

Rita Donaghy, chair of Acas, told Personnel Today that resolving such
entrenched disputes takes time, especially with the added pressure of such a
complex deal.

"Sometimes it can take a very long time to resolve these disputes,
because you always have a consultative period [while members consider the
agreement] after a settlement is reached."

She added: "The future of the fire service is at stake here and both
sides care passionately about it. But there’s a huge set of complex factors on
both sides."

The Acas chief said her team had managed to persuade both sides to resume
talks after they appeared to have broken down earlier this month. "You can
only get people along when both sides see possibilities. We’ve been working
hard behind the scenes gradually persuading both sides," she added.

Donaghy remains upbeat on resolution although the two sides had not even
been in the same building at the same time until last Tuesday when talks broke
down again.

The Fire Brigades Union, led by general secretary Andy Gilchrist, was due to
start a 24-hour dispute today after it rejected the employers’ offer of an 11
per cent increase over three years linked to modernisation proposals in the
Bain report.

Donaghy said industrial relations in the fire service have not been poor
historically and both sides were anxious to find a settlement. "Ironically
enough, I wouldn’t say there’s a particularly bad relationship between the two
sides.

"They’ve had some blow ups recently but as an industry it’s not as bad
as others we’ve known," she said.

By Ross Wigham

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