New shift patterns for firefighters suggested

London Fire Authority tonight welcomed moves aimed at resolving a bitter row over shift patterns which has led to two strikes.

An advisory panel put forward recommendations on shift times which will have to be accepted by both sides before the dispute is resolved.



Firefighters in the capital currently work a day shift of nine hours and a night shift of 15 hours, but the brigade said it wanted both shifts to be 12 hours, although later suggested 11 and 13 hours.



The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) staged two eight hour strikes, and only called off a planned walkout on Bonfire Night at the last minute, saying all its members in London faced the sack if they did not agree to new shifts.



The panel, chaired by Professor William Brown, made two suggestions on shift times, an 11 hour day shift and 13 hour night shift or a 10.5 hour day and 13.5 hour night shift.



"I believe that there is a case for contractual change. But because it is a contractual change I further believe that in this instance employees should be consulted by the union through a robust mechanism on which of the two options is the most preferable," said Professor Brown.



Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: "I strongly welcome the proposals and we are considering the detail to work out which is most advantageous for us. When that work is completed we will be putting that recommendation to the authority."



Ron Dobson, Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, said: "I am pleased that the independent chairperson of the panel has supported my view that there is a case for contractual change and the two recommendations put forward by Professor Brown now give the FBU the opportunity to put both to their members to decide which one of these options they would prefer."



Union leaders were meeting tonight to decide their response to the panel's report.



The panel also largely accepted a proposal by the authority on so-called direct standbys, under which firefighters can be told to go to another fire station other than their own to fill a gap if someone is sick.



At present this happens when firefighters arrive at their own station, but the brigade said time would be saved if they could make arrangements the night before.



Managers said that instead of spending time driving to another station, firefighters would arrive on time, allowing fire engines to be ready to take calls much quicker when shifts are changed.



Professor Brown recommended that the authority's proposals should apply, although within a distance of 7.5 miles.

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