Negotiations aimed at resolving the Southern California grocery strike and lock out are to resume on Friday 19 December.

Peter Hurtgen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), is to mediate the talks after both sides agreed to his request to return to the bargaining table. 

Hurtgen asked representatives of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the supermarket chains - Kroger's Ralphs, Safeway's Vons and Albertsons - to resume face-to-face negotiations following a recess that began on 8 December.

"Our goal in the mediation process is to build understanding and to move the parties toward an agreement," Hurtgen said. "In this case, we are dealing with particularly difficult issues."

The dispute, which began on 11 October, centres on attempts by the supermarket companies to make workers contribute more to rising health care costs.