Talks to avert Bonfire Night firefighters strike break down

Talks to prevent a strike by London firefighters on Bonfire Night broke down today after the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the London Fire Authority were unable to resolve their differences over proposed changes to contracts and shift patterns.

The planned strike will come after an eight-hour stoppage on 23 October and another on 1 November. It will begin at 10am on November 5 and run until 9am on November 7.

London Fire Brigade plans for firefighters to work two 12-hour day shifts followed by two 12-hour night shifts, with four days off, in order to allow more time for daytime community fire-prevention work. They currently work two nine-hour day shifts followed by two 15-hour night shifts.

The union claims that firefighters who have not agreed to the new contracts have been threatened with dismissal, and has warned that the changes will endanger safety as fewer staff will be available at night.

On Channel 4 news last night, the leader of the London Fire Authority, Brian Coleman, invited the FBU to conciliation talks at 9am this morning.

But an FBU spokesman said: “It’s dreadfully disappointing that after four hours there was still no sign of him or the chief fire officer, Ron Dobson. Regrettably, the brigade representatives in attendance had nothing new to say to us.

“Where was Councillor Coleman at 9am, having said that he would be here in talks with us? He is not taking this issue with the seriousness that firefighters and Londoners expect of the leader of the Fire Authority.”

The spokesman stressed that the authority does not have to reach agreement with the union on shifts to get it to call off the strikes.

“They just have to withdraw the ‘sacking notices’ that were sent out on August 11th,” he said. “Our message is that we will cancel all planned strikes if the brigade agrees to lift the mass sackings. We can then negotiate a fair settlement as equal parties.”

In response, Coleman said: “The compromise of an 11-hour day and 13-hour night shift is achievable through talks, and the FBU have today walked away.

“Our message is simple – call off the strikes now and meet us on 5 November at the Resolution Advisory Panel, which has the ability to resolve this dispute.

“The continuing determination by the FBU to take strike action is unnecessary, unjustified and will be viewed unsympathetically by Londoners. This dispute centres on proposed changes to make Londoners even safer from fires.”

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