FIREFIGHTERS have launched a fresh series of strikes over a long-running dispute with the Government over pensions.

Members of the Hampshire Fire Brigades Union walked out at 12noon today and return at 5pm, before striking again from 2pm-2am on Saturday and 10am-3pm on Sunday.

The union claims ministers are “sitting” on proposals that could end the row that were drawn up six weeks ago.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: ''We're astonished that the Government would allow strikes to continue when for over a month they have been sitting on proposals that might point the way towards a solution. The ball is once again firmly in their court.

''Nevertheless firefighters simply want a workable pension scheme and an end to this dispute, and the existence of such proposals gives us hope that an end might be in sight.

''These strikes have only resumed because of a complete absence of proposals from Government. Rather than speculate on the motivations for their behaviour, now that we know costed proposals exist, we call on the minister to send us proposals without any further delay.''

The union said firefighters are having to pay higher pension contributions, face working into their late 50s before retiring and could be sacked because their fitness declines as they get older.

Picket lines took place at Hightown Fire Station earlier today and more demonstrations are set to take place over the weekend.

Meanwhile a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “''It was the union executive's decision to call this strike that effectively ended its discussions with the Government.

''This shows the executive is not serious about finding a resolution for its members.

''The Government is clear that further change can be made through constructive engagement, but not under the shadow of industrial action, which only serves to damage firefighters' standing with the public.”