Firefighters in central England demand better working conditions

Firefighters in central England walked out for three hours Monday to demand better working conditions. The strike began as planned at 6 p.m. (1800GMT) after talks between the Fire Brigades Union, or FBU, and management broke down without agreement.

Army, navy and air force personnel have been drafted to provide emergency cover.

West Midlands Fire Service said the FBU had rejected a "last ditch" offer made by management in an attempt to avert the strike. "This is the fourth offer which the FBU Committee has thrown back in our faces without giving our firefighters the opportunity to have a say," Chief Fire Officer Frank Sheehan said.

"To say I am bitterly disappointed is an understatement, and I will continue to hope against hope that a resolution will be found." The union said last week that its members in the area had voted overwhelmingly for strike action. They are seeking compensation for anti-social work hours and additional travel costs, following the introduction of a new shift system, the AP reports.

West Midlands Fire Service said its latest offer included up to six days' additional annual leave and an extra 12.5 percent on the firefighters' hourly rate for late split-shifts.

A second three-hour strike has been scheduled for Thursday, and the FBU said Monday that another, five-hour stoppage would be held Nov. 21 unless the two sides could agree on a deal. A.M.

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