Firefighters 'likely to abandon strike plans'

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LOCAL authority leaders yesterday predicted firefighters would abandon plans for strikes after a ballot on industrial action was postponed.

Employers' negotiators agreed to speed up the calculation of the firefighters' pay formula so that the figures will be available for adjourned talks on 12 October.

Official figures published on Thursday indicated that the final calculation would be near to the 1.5 per cent dictated by the Government's curb on public sector pay.

A joint statement yesterday said that both sides were committed to the fire service wages mechanism, which leaders of the Fire Brigades Union are pledged to defend.

Employers have said they are prepared to honour the agreement next year in spite of a government freeze on the public sector pay bill, but were bound by a 1.5 per cent limit on wage rises this year.

Ken Cameron, general secretary of the union, welcomed the commitment to the formula, but said he expected they would pay the increase dictated by the mechanism this year.

If the formula finally throws out a figure slightly more than 1.5 per cent, firefighters are expected to have little enthusiasm for the 24- hour strikes planned. If the ballot went ahead it would start after the figures were known.

Mr Cameron said he was disappointed with the initial calculation which was based on the upper quartile of male manual earnings in April. Instead of updating those fiures with earnings figures for August, both sides accepted that they would now be up-dated with data for July so that a result would be available sooner. Also fed into the equation are the results of a survey of firefighters' earnings.

After three hours of talks in London, Laurie Conlon, chairman of the employers' side, said he was sure they were heading for a settlement. 'I don't think there will be a strike. This a victory for commonsense.'

Mr Conlon said it was sensible to wait until the final figure was known before holding further talks.

The union had hoped to resolve the dispute yesterday, but Mr Cameron said: 'The matter is still on hold. We have not called off the ballot - we have only suspended it.'

He said there had been no discussions about the likely pay formula figure. 'We don't know if it will be below or above 1.5 per cent, but we do know there should be a commitment to honour that agreement.'

He said the public would not have understood the union pressing ahead with its plans to begin balloting next Monday because negotiations were not complete.