Firefighters to vote on strikes

Thousands of firefighters are to be balloted for strike action in an escalating row over new contracts, it was announced today.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) in London are already voting on whether to take industrial action short of a strike, with the result due tomorrow.

The union said today that it had now decided to hold a strike ballot after accusing the capital's fire brigade of threatening to sack firefighters if they did not agree to the new contracts, which they said would lead to worse conditions and different shift patterns.

Hundreds of FBU members will march through London later today to lobby a meeting of the fire authority.

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: "I'm proposing changes to benefit Londoners and firefighters without asking for more money or cutting services. Talks with the union are ongoing and we remain very much in a position of compromise.

"Assuming that public services do not need to improve year on year is naive, so we must bring this long-running dispute over shift start and finish times to a close and get on with protecting Londoners."

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, said: "The London Fire Brigade sacking notice was intended as a means of forcing firefighters to agree new shift patterns which pave the way for reducing fire cover at night.

"Even at this stage, the LFB can ensure that there is no strike and no industrial action. All it has to do is withdraw the letter and return to negotiations over shift patterns."