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Firefighters move towards agreement

THE THREAT of strikes by firefighters receded last night as it became clear that unions and management would be quibbling over tiny amounts of money.

Official figures released yesterday showed that a pay formula which the Fire Brigades Union is anxious to defend would produce a rise within a whisker of the 1.5 per cent upper limit on public sector wage increases. The final calculation is likely to produce an increase between 1 and 2 per cent.

In talks today, employers are expected to reach an agreement on the basis of the wages mechanism. But, if the negotiations fail, a ballot over 24-hour strikes, due to begin on Monday, is unlikely to produce a 'yes' vote, it is thought.

Ken Cameron, general secretary of the FBU, said yesterday that his members wanted management to honour the wage formula even if it produced a figure below 1.5 per cent. Mr Cameron said: 'We have got an agreement with employers and we will accept whatever the figures produce. This is not about pounds and pence, it is about an agreement which has kept industrial peace for 15 years.'

If the formula produced 2 per cent, firefighters would be losing around pounds 60 net a day in order to gain an extra pounds 1 a week.

Councillors are under pressure to seek a settlement because of concern over the financial impact of 24-hour strikes. The Home Secretary insisted on Tuesday that local authorities would have to meet the full cost of auxiliary fire cover.

At today's talks between the FBU and local authorities, some management representatives will argue that any figure thrown up by the formula should be applied in stages, others will contend that the mechanism should be honoured in full because the final outcome would be so little different to 1.5 per cent. That would probably be acceptable to firefighters.

Mr Cameron argued that councils would pay far more to cope with strikes than they would save by refusing to apply the formula.

The latest official earnings figures, published yesterday, showed that the upper quartile of male manual earnings, to which firefighters' pay is linked, stood at 2.3 per cent. However when the figures are up-dated and a survey of present firefighters' earnings are fed into the equation, the figure is likely to be lower.

Leaders of 24,000 Ford manual workers are to switch emphasis in their annual negotiations, away from pay towards job security.

Jimmy Airlie, engineering and electrical union negotiator at the company, said his members would expect a 'substantial' pay increase and a management guarantee that there would be no redundancies.

Union negotiators at Vauxhall have rejected a two-year deal of 2.1 per cent this year and 2.6 per cent in 1994.

Roger Bolton, employees' leader, said profitability and productivity had improved and workers expected to share in the company's prosperity.