Firefighters' leaders have suspended an eight-day national strike due to begin on Monday to allow more time for pay negotiations.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will be setting dates for industrial action in the new year if the talks break down, although more stoppages are thought to be unlikely.
Last night's decision by the FBU will allow time for Sir George Bain's report on pay and modernisation in the fire service, due to be published on Monday, to be taken into account during negotiations.
Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the FBU, who refused to be drawn on the dates or duration of fresh industrial action, said his executive was keen to resolve the dispute through a negotiated settlement. He had met officials at the conciliation service Acas and described the talks as positive.
"We have informed our employers that we are determined to achieve a serious and significant increase in pay for our members and we hope to do this through negotiation," Mr Gilchrist said.
"However, should progress halt or fail, or if the Government or our employers are no longer seriously negotiating on our claim, the executive will not hesitate to instruct members to take further strike action."
The local authority employers will hold talks with Acas officials today, but face-to-face meetings with the FBU might not start until after Christmas.
Local authority employers and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, welcomed the FBU's decision to suspend the strike, which was due to end on Christmas Eve.
But a spokesman for Mr Prescott said: "The Government's position remains clear: any settlement must be within the framework set out by the Deputy Prime Minister."
* The threat of Christmas disruption at Britain's biggest airports was withdrawn yesterday after unions and management agreed a pay deal. The Transport and General Workers' Union agreed to drop strike plans at seven airports run by BAA after the company offered a rise of almost 8 per cent over two years to its 8,000 employees.
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