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Bonfire Night fire strike called off by union

PUBLISHED: 12:51 05 November 2010

Tower Hamlets' firefighters strike outside Bethnal Green fire station on November 1

Tower Hamlets' firefighters strike outside Bethnal Green fire station on November 1

Carmen Valino

A firefighters’ strike, which would have coincided with the busiest night of the year for the London Fire Brigade (LFB), was called off by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) last night.

Tower Hamlets’ firefighters were set to walk out of their stations this morning at 10am to take part in a 47-hour strike.

It would have been their third strike in 13 days over an ongoing dispute with LFB bosses about proposed changes to shift patterns.

But the FBU called off today’s strike, which would have coincided with Bonfire Night and Diwali celebrations, after the LFB agreed to delay a decision on mass sackings until January 26.

The LFB said section 188 notices, which mean the Brigade can sack firefighters who refuse to agree to new shift patterns of 12-hour day and night shifts, could be withdrawn following an independently-chaired arbitration meeting on November 16.

Both parties have agreed to a meeting with the Resolution Advisory Panel.

Dave Egan, 41, a firefighter with Bethnal Green’s Blue Watch, said: “We are pleased that the strike action isn’t going ahead, but we realise that it is far from over.

“The Brigade have tabled a formal offer of 11-hour day shifts and 13-hour night shifts.

“The union’s starting point is 9 to 15 so hopefully we can meet somewhere between that.

Chris Boag, 35, Tower Hamlet’s union secretary, said: “The union negotiators thought it was the right time to go to arbitration.

“I’m very confident that an agreement can be reached.

“We are still in industrial dispute though. Tower Hamlets firefighters won’t be working prearranged overtime or acting up to more senior roles.”

“This is a sensible move,” said Brian Coleman, London’s fire authority chairman.

“These strikes have always been unjustified, unnecessary and utterly avoidable.”

The LFB won an emergency court agreement yesterday to ensure that striking union members would have been unable to prevent contracted contingency staff from private fire company AssetCo from getting into fire stations.

Mr Egan said: “There could have been a safety risk had we gone on strike.

“We all know from experience that the AssetCo cover isn’t adequate. A couple of school kids could provide better cover.”

Tower Hamlets is traditionally the busiest borough in London for fire service call-outs on November 5.

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