Hopes of averting months of strikes by Britain's 50,000 firefighters faded yesterday as union officials rejected weekend overtures from the Government and management.
Ministers and representatives of fire authorities hinted that a three-year deal worth 19 per cent could be available, but the Fire Brigades Union continue to reject the Bain report, on which the proposed settlement would be based.
Government sources repeated that the union would have to accept the 11 per cent over two years proposed by Sir George Bain last year before they would contemplate a deal for the third year.
Geoff Ellis, a national official of the FBU, left open the possibility that the union might attend negotiations at the conciliation service Acas tomorrow, but said there was "no way" the union could accept 4 per cent this year tied to radical measures involving more than 4,000 job losses.
The union is threatening a 24-hour stoppage on 21 January, two 48-hour strikes on 28 January and 1 February, followed by months of "flexible" walkouts varying in duration from two hours to four days.
One fire authority negotiator said that employers would be prepared to negotiate a pay increase for a third year and a mechanism for settling pay to replace the formula used since 1978. Employers were also prepared to discuss how the 7 per cent earmarked for the second year of the offer would be distributed among firefighters who took on extra responsibilities.
Sir Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the employers' body, the Local Government Association, indicated yesterday that more cash might be available in the longer term and pledged there would be no compulsory redundancies. He urged the FBU to get round the table, and insisted that there was plenty of room for negotiation.
However, Andy Gilchrist, general secretary of the FBU, called on employers to table an improved offer so that talks could go ahead.He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost programme: "If the employers meet [today] and confirm what we were told last Thursday, there is no point, because it is not about negotiation, it is about capitulation and the decimation of the fire service."
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