THE fire service should not be "holding a gun" to the head of the firefighters union in a battle over new shift patterns, a councillor has said.

Hereford and Worcester Fire Authority voted to carry on with placing a new 10-hour duty shift on its firefighters if agreements between the fire service and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) could not be reached.

All firefighters could be forced to sign up to the new contract or face the sack.

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Councillor Richard Udall, who sits on the fire authority, said changes needed to be made to firefighters' shift patterns but threatening to sack them was a “step too far" and the ultimatum should be withdrawn.

He said: “We can’t negotiate in good faith if we are holding a gun to the head of our employees, this macho style of industrial relations is not appropriate and is not in the long term interest of seeking good quality industrial relationships within the service.

“Both sides need to step back from confrontation and negotiate an agreement before it’s too late.”

The change comes after recent EU and High Court rulings have branded current shift patterns unlawful and the FBU has refused to sign up to them.

Labour and the authority’s independent councillors opposed the plan with Labour calling for the decision to be postponed to try and find a settlement but the plan was backed by the authority’s Conservative councillors.

If the new shift plans cannot be implemented in the next months, the fire service would start putting the 10-hour system in place as it said it complies with the relevant regulations and has been independently verified.

A spokesman for Hereford and Worcester Fire Service said the 10-hour duty system would mean staff worked 10 hour days and 42 hours a week at Malvern, Evesham and Droitwich fire stations.

Firefighters would work three and a half days a week on average after leave.

The spokesman said: “The Fire Brigades Union have stated that they are not willing to accept the proposed duty system even though it has been negotiated with representative bodies, and referred to the National Joint Council’s technical advisory panel, which agreed that it meets the national terms and conditions.”