Fire authority chairman questions union’s response to dispute negotiations

London firefighters edge closer to a formal resolution of their trade dispute but fire authority chairman Brian Coleman is ‘flabbergasted’ by their position.

Members of the London regional committee of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) voted overwhelmingly to enter into an agreement with London Fire Brigade (LFB) over new shift patterns on Friday.

With the LFB originally proposing new equal day and night shift patterns of 12 hours, as opposed to the current nine-hour day shifts and 15-hour night shifts, union members across London, including Tower Hamlets, twice went on strike last year.

Agreement on a compromise of ten-and-a-half hour day shifts and thirteen-and-a-half hour night shifts was reached at a fire authority meeting on Thursday and while endorsing the new arrangement, a spokesman for the FBU’s London committee said it had to ‘concentrate on tying up the loose ends’.

Union officials have previously stated that these include further reassurances on the return of 27 fire engines removed from London fire stations by the LFB, including from Poplar and Whitechapel, to act as strike cover; the future use of section 188 notices which mean firefighters can be sacked if they do not agree to new working arrangements and any monies docked from members during the dispute.

Ian Leahair, FBU executive member for London, said: “We are glad that we are within touching distance of resolving this industrial dispute.

“Our members have stood firm, and in the end the brigade was forced to reach agreement with us rather than carry out their threat of mass sackings.

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“The agreement provides for new working patterns which are more amenable to our members than the brigade’s original proposals.

“And the lesson for the brigade is that they should think twice in the future before trying to get their way through the threat of mass sackings.

“We fought them off this time, and we would do so again if necessary.”

Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: “I’m flabbergasted by the position the FBU have taken and had hoped to put a final end to the dispute.

“I don’t know why the Union are telling us they’ll enter into an agreement and say that the dispute continues.

“My aim is to get things back to normal as soon as possible.”

In a statement, the LFB said the 27 fire engines could not be returned until the threat of a strike had been lifted.

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