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Firefighter leaders cancel strike before union meets.

Byline: Mike Parkes

Firefighter leaders last night called off a planned 24-hour strike after being given a fresh offer aimed at ending their bitter pay dispute.

The dramatic development came hours before hundreds of Fire Brigades' Union activists were due to meet at a recalled national conference to consider a fresh campaign of industrial action.

The union was planning to stage a 24-hour walkout from 6pm tomorrow threatening a huge public backlash because troops are likely to be heavily involved in military action in Iraq.

Local authority employers have not increased the 16 per cent pay offer over three years but they have 'loosened' some of the strings attached to the deal, according to the union.

The FBU executive voted to call off the strike and recommend acceptance of the deal although they will face fierce criticism from some activists at tomorrow's conference in Brighton.

A union spokesman said the revised offer contained a number of 'significant' changes and was being recommended for acceptance.

The Executive was suggesting that the offer be discussed at a series of meetings across the country over the next two weeks before a final vote was taken at a national conference.

The spokesman conceded that the offer was similar to one already rejected by the executive but he said there were a number of big changes to the employers plans for working practices.

'It is an opportunity for ending the dispute, although the membership will obviously have to decide,' said the spokesman.

It is understood that the union's executive was not unanimous in recommending the deal.

According the FBU the revised offer, made by employers earlier yesterday, allows for more consultation on planned changes to duty systems.

The union had rejected the earlier offer because they said it would allow local fire officials to move firefighters from station to station at short notice.

The union was also concerned it would lose its influence at local level in the way shifts were operated.

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said tonight's development was 'very encouraging' although he called on the union to remove the threat of industrial action completely so that thousands of troops did not have to remain on standby in the face of military action in Iraq. 'We welcome the fact that the union has called off the strike but we would like to see them call off the threat of industrial action completely because we still have to keep 19,000 troops on standby,' said the spokesman.

Union activists last night attacked the executive for calling off the strike before today's conference had a chance to discuss the new offer.

One activist said that calling off the 24-hour walk-out planned for tomorrow was 'an absolute disgrace'.

He went on: 'The executive has bottled it and there will be a blood bath at tomorrow's conference.'

The union has staged a series of walk-outs stretching back over the last few months in its longrunning campaign for a 40 per cent pay rise.

CAPTION(S):

John Prescott
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 19, 2003
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