A strike by up to 750,000 teachers, civil servants and other public sector workers is set to go ahead after crunch talks with the Government today failed to end a bitter row over pensions and spending cuts.
Members of four trade unions will walk out for 24 hours on Thursday, closing thousands of schools in England and Wales and disrupting Government departments, courts, driving tests and job centres.
In a joint statement after this afternoon's meeting, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander insisted the talks had been "constructive".
"We believe both sides have a responsibility to see the talks through and we would urge public workers not to strike while they are ongoing," the statement said.
But Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "It was disappointing that the meeting proved to be no different to any of the others - it was a farce."
In their joint statement, the ministers insisted that public service pensions "will still be among the very best, with a guaranteed pension which very few private sector staff now enjoy."
It said: "We are proposing they will be paid later because people live longer, and that public sector staff will pay more, for a fairer balance between what they pay and what other taxpayers pay."
The ministers said: "While the talks are ongoing, it is obviously disappointing that some unions have decided on industrial action.
"But what the recent ballot results show is that there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action union leaders are calling for. Less than 10% of the Civil Service workforce has voted for strike actions and only about a third of teachers."
"Rigorous" contingency plans have been put in place to allow services to continue during Thursday's strike, the statement added.
Mr Serwotka said: "Again, the Government has shown no interest in actually negotiating on any of the key principles at the heart of this dispute.
"And this is a dispute that is entirely of the Government's making. We did not ask for pensions to be cut, we did not ask for public servants to be told they must work years longer and pay more for much less in retirement.
"Every independent analysis shows that public sector pensions are affordable now and in the future, and costs are falling in the long term.
"On Thursday we will see hundreds of thousands of civil and public servants on strike and, on the experience of today's meeting and the last few months of Government obstinacy, we fully expect to be joined by millions more in the autumn."
Further talks are to be held between the two sides, but the Government is now facing the biggest outbreak of industrial unrest since the coalition was formed, with worse disruption set for later in the year.
The strikes will involve members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and lecturers (ATL), the University and College Union (UCU) and the Public and Commercial Services union, although students, campaign groups and other activists are also planning action, including marches and protests.
Picket lines will be mounted outside schools, colleges, universities, Parliament, courts and Government buildings such as the Treasury, with many workers going on strike for the first time.
Today's meeting involved Mr Maude, Mr Alexander, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber and leaders of several trade unions.
Unions have accused the Government of refusing to negotiate in good faith and of leaking information to the media ahead of talks, which started months ago.
UCU leader Sally Hunt said her members were "the most unlikely militants" and said the Government's tactics so far had caused a lot of tension.
Unison leader Dave Prentis has warned that his union will ballot more than a million workers for industrial action if the dispute is not resolved, predicting that walkouts in the autumn would be the biggest since the 1926 General Strike.
Mr Barber said that some progress had been made on some of the issues and ministers had agreed to hold further talks next month.
He stressed there was still a "major gap" between the two sides on plans to increase the pension age, raise contributions and change the way pensions are determined from RPI to CPI inflation.
"The Government did enter into some movement on some issues and there will be a further meeting in July.
"This is a serious process which we are committed to, because we want to try to reach an agreement," he said.Reuse content