Firefighters to extend strikes action to spread escalate likely

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The Independent Online

Labour Editor

Firefighters' leaders on Merseyside are today expected to order an escalation of industrial action in a dispute that is increasingly seen as a test case for the service throughout Britain.

Leaders of the Fire Brigades Union yesterday expressed confidence that their 1,700 members in the North-west were voting "overwhelmingly" to escalate 9-hour strikes to 24 hours in protest at job cuts.

The union has pencilled in Tuesday next week for the first day-long walk- out and has warned that the wording of the ballot could allow 48-hour stoppages, with each firefighter striking for 24 hours over two-days. The Merseyside firefighters have already staged six strikes, including a stoppage last Saturday, in protest at the threatened loss of 20 jobs and three days' annual leave.

Ken Cameron, general secretary of the FBU, predicted a "massive" majority in favour of tougher action in the ballot result due today: "Let's hope when management sees the vote it will concentrate their minds and produce some common sense."

He said every fire authority had been forced to look for savings because of government cuts, but only Merseyside had sought to make compulsory redundancies.

The union commissioned the City accountants KPMG to produce a report on alternative means of saving the necessary pounds 700,000, but the FBU claims management has ignored it. The union said the KPMG proposals would allow the authority to make sufficient savings without compulsory job losses. Mr Cameron believes there is a threat of far deeper cuts if the union fails to stop the present plans.

The authority said the union had supplied management with a two-page version of the extensive KPMG study, to which the authority had responded in a seven-page document. However, the union had refused to supply the whole document.