Civil servants to vote on strike

The Government was on a collision course with public sector workers today as the prospect of a national strike in protest at cuts in jobs, services and pensions came a step closer.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) agreed to a ballot of more than 250,000 civil servants for industrial action.

Voting will start next week and the result will be known by mid-June, raising the threat of co-ordinated strikes with other workers, including teachers, on June 30.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told the PCS conference in Brighton that 750,000 workers could be involved in strikes next month, rising to millions later in the year.

He said 110,000 civil servants' jobs were being cut over the next few years, offices such as jobcentres closed, pay frozen and pensions reduced.

Mr Serwotka urged union members to "fight like never before" to reverse the "brutal" cuts, saying strikes could "turn the tide" against the Government.

Three teaching unions - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) - have already agreed to ballot members over national strike action.

"National action with other unions is key to our strategy, which is designed to escalate and put pressure on the Government before it is too late," said Mr Serwotka.

"We could be the difference that leads to millions going on strike and turn the tide against the Government. The scale of attacks by the Government is breathtaking and savage.

"Are we going to let it happen, or fight like never before to give our members job security, income and pensions they deserve?

"The Government is attacking everything we have fought for for generations. Things we have taken for granted, and which our parents fought for, are now in danger of disappearing. Kids will be worse off than their parents because of this Government.

"The economic crisis was not caused by our members' jobs, pensions or pay and it is shameful and wrong that the coalition Government is attempting to scapegoat them in its bid to slash and burn the welfare state."

Vicky Whittle, who works at Birmingham prison, said PCS members at the jail wanted to be balloted for industrial action in protest at privatisation.

The Government has announced that the running of the prison is being handed to private firm G4S, which sparked threats of industrial action from prison officers.

Ms Whittle said more than 760 staff at the prison faced being transferred from the public to the private sector, adding that PCS members wanted to strike in protest.

She warned delegates that privatising prisons signalled the "end" of the civil service.

Both the NUT and ATL, traditionally seen as the most moderate teaching union, will start balloting members this week.