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Firefighters' union backs new shifts deal

Firefighters' union leaders today endorsed a deal aimed at ending a bitter dispute over shift times in London.

The London Regional Committee of the Fire Brigades Union voted overwhelmingly to back new shift patterns, which were accepted last month by firefighters.

The row led to a series of strikes in the capital last year and almost led to a walkout on Bonfire Night.

Under the new deal, firefighters will work 10.5 hour day shifts and 13.5 hour night shifts, compared with the previous nine hour day and 15 hour night pattern.

Ian Leahair, the FBU's executive member for London region, 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.

"The agreement provides for new working patterns which are more amenable to our members than the brigade's original proposals. We will now concentrate on tying up the loose ends, and formally bringing the dispute to an end."

Ron Dobson, London Fire Commissioner, said: "The FBU have said that the London Regional Committee has accepted to enter into a collective agreement, which is welcome news. Unfortunately they've also told us that despite reaching a collective agreement the trade dispute remains in being. I'd hoped agreement would mean an official end to the dispute, and to arrange for the 27 fire appliances that have been on standby to be returned to the fire stations."

Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Councillor Brian Coleman, said: "I'm flabbergasted by the position the FBU have taken and had hoped to put a final end to the dispute today. 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."

The brigade said the 27 appliances removed from service during last year's strikes will only be returned when the threat of further action has been lifted.