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Plea to end fire brigade dispute

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By James Cracknell

A HARROW councillor has called on London mayor Boris Johnson to end the 'deplorable' stand-off between firefighters and their bosses.

While Harrow and Brent escaped unscathed from Saturday's strike, another is due to begin on Monday and a contentious third has been pencilled in for Bonfire Night weekend, one of the busiest of the year.

If the increasingly fractious negotiations between the London FireBrigade (LFB) and the Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) come to no resolution before November 26, 5,500 firefighters face being sacked.

Councillor Navin Shah (Kenton East) sits on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority board, opposite its Conservative chairman Brian Coleman.

He told the Observer this week: "There has been a complete vacuum at the political level, including the mayor of London.

"I have been demanding all along that the chairman and the mayor open adialogue with the FBU."

The industrial dispute centres on a bid by the LFB to terminate existing contracts and re-issue firefighters with new shift patterns and working conditions.

Mr Shah said he blamed the mayor for conspiring with Mr Coleman, the Conservative fire chairman Mr Johnson appointed in 2008, on the termination of contracts.

He continued: "This is deplorable. It is the third biggest fire brigade in the world, you would have thought they wouldn't want a major confrontation.

"It doesn't help with the kind of language the chairman is using: 'either you sign up or your contract will be scrapped'.

"The change to shifts does need to happen, there isn't a disagreement about that, but it is how you go about it.

"My fear is that both the mayor and the chairman have been spoiling for a fight."

But Mr Coleman has denied that the decision to sack firefighters was about making job losses. "The FBU have placed firefighters in a terrible position," he said.

"We asked for a meeting with national negotiators on November 5, and the union has responded with a strike.

"There are no cuts, no job losses, this is about reducing a 15-hour night shift, adding those hours to the day shift and doing more community safety work and firefighter training."

Mr Shah himself admitted the choice of date for a 47-hour strike was inappropriate. He added: "It is unfortunate they have gone for November 5, which also happens to be Diwali, when Hindus celebrate with fireworks.

"I understand they want the strike to bite but I think they have miscalculated it."

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28th October 2010