Ministers try to stop further strike action


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The Independent Online

Ministers are attempting to split off striking teachers from other public-sector workers as part of a strategy to divide the union movement and prevent further mass walk-outs.

Teachers' leaders are due to sit down with negotiators today for further talks on the details of a new pension scheme. Sources on both sides said the talks were at an advanced stage and "progressing well".

Ministers are keen to do a deal with at least one set of public-sector workers in an attempt to split the union movement and put pressure on others to accept a deal. The teachers' pension scheme has been identified as one of those where it is easiest to reach agreement and the Treasury may be prepared to make further concessions.        

Asked if the Government might do a deal with only one section of public-sector workers, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It is possible".

Yesterday's strike closed 62 per cent of schools in England and Wales, with only 16 per cent operating normally. Ministers accept that the closures had a significant economic impact as parents had to take time off work to look after children. They believe the impact of other striking workers was less.

The Government claimed only a quarter of civil servants had not turned up for work and just 19 out of 900 job centres had closed. It added that there had been no serious disruption at airports and contingency arrangements appeared to have "worked well".

David Cameron claimed that industrial action was "looking like something of a damp squib". However, the unions disputed this and said reports from picket lines showed a "huge" turnout for the strike, with up to 90 per cent of staff in some departments, including Revenue and Customs, taking action.

More than 1,000 rallies were held across the UK, including one in central London attended by tens of thousands.

The teachers' strike was well supported and the Government believes if a deal could be done with them other workers would find it more difficult to continue with action.

Unison officials – who represent many of the most poorly paid public-sector workers – admit it will be difficult to call their members out on more strikes due to the financial strain it imposes.

Education union leaders are due to meet civil servants this morning before going on to have their own summit on how to follow up on yesterday's action. Some union leaders believe it would be possible to agree options in the separate talks over teachers' pensions.