Civil servants vote for strike


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Senior civil servants have voted by 4-1 in favour of industrial action over the Government's controversial pension reforms, increasing the prospect of a strike by millions of workers at the end of the month, it was announced today.

The FDA union said that in a 54% turnout of members, 81% were in favour of industrial action and it was likely they will now be called on to strike as part of the TUC's day of action on November 30.

The union, which represents 18,000 senior civil and public servants, including tax inspectors, special advisers, government lawyers, crown prosecutors and diplomats, said the Government needed to reflect why such senior staff felt driven to vote to strike.

Prospect, which represents 30,000 civil servants in more than 120 government departments, said its members had also voted by an "overwhelming majority" of 3-1 in favour of strike action.

Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the FDA, said: "This is a decisive vote for industrial action, but this ballot should not have been necessary. No one has worked harder than the FDA to seek a negotiated settlement, often in the face of Government delay and procrastination."

Mr Baume said improvements to the Government's reform proposals announced earlier this month by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander were welcome, but only "limited progress" was being made because the Treasury had yet to provide clarity about what the proposals mean in detail.

"We are committed to securing pension arrangements that are both fair to our members and that continue to be sustainable. The FDA has only once before held a national strike ballot, and our members regard industrial action as the very last resort. So the Government needs to reflect upon why senior public servants feel driven to vote to strike.

"Many FDA members face a pay cut of up to 6% over the next three years because of the pensions levy. In the context of a pay freeze and high inflation, this is a cut in living standards of up to one fifth. There is also considerable anger that the Government's change - without consultation or negotiation - of the index for uprating pensions from RPI to CPI means a reduction of at least 15% in their real value before any further changes are implemented.

"The FDA executive committee will meet tomorrow, but my expectation is that we will be calling upon our members to join with millions of other public sector workers in the TUC day of action on November 30. We will nonetheless continue to negotiate in good faith."

Prospect said there was a high vote and turn-out in its ballot, reflecting the "deep anger" among members at the Government's actions in scrapping their existing scheme and imposing higher pension contributions, a later retirement age and the switch from RPI to CPI inflation for uprating pensions.

Deputy general secretary Dai Hudd said: "This is a very healthy mandate to continue to strive for a just settlement. We do not ask members to support a strike lightly - indeed this is the first civil service-wide ballot we have held in more than 30 years.

"It is a cry from the heart from the Government's own staff for ministers to listen to their justified anger. Even at this late hour we urge the Government to come forward with new, fairer proposals that would avert the need for strike action.

"It is still the aim of the executive to strive to agree a settlement to this dispute. We intend to use this outcome wisely to achieve that aim."

Prospect said 12,699 of its members voted for action, with 4,126 against in a turn out of 52%.

Workers ranging from school dinner ladies, refuse collectors and hospital porters to head teachers, diplomats and scientists are now set to stage a 24-hour walkout on November 30 which would be the biggest outbreak of industrial unrest since the 1979 winter of discontent.

Several other unions are due to announce the results of their strike ballots this week, including the GMB, Unite and the NASUWT teaching union.

Mark Serwotka, leader of the Public and Commercial Services union, which has already voted to strike, said of the FDA ballot result: "This shows clearly that the government's senior civil servants don't agree with their ministers, and that the political choice taken to raid public sector pensions to help pay off the deficit is not only unnecessary, it's grossly unfair."

The dispute worsened after unions attacked a Government minister for making a "daft" suggestion that public sector workers would not lose any pay if they only go on strike for 15 minutes on November 30.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that the Government was willing to accommodate some kind of "token action", but Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB union, said it was a "daft idea", adding: "We are asking members to vote for a strike, not a tea break."

Mr Maude said: "We have listened to the concerns of public sector workers about their pensions and responded with a new generous settlement which is beyond the dreams of most private employees.

"I urge the trade unions to devote their energy to reaching agreement and not to unnecessary and damaging strike action.

"This offer is as good as it gets and I appeal directly to every public servant to visit the Treasury website and consider the generous offer we have made before they take to the streets.

"The new settlement represents a very big move. Public service workers will continue to receive a guaranteed benefit in retirement, not subject to market fluctuations or fees - something which has all but been eliminated elsewhere. There are further protections on offer. These include a more generous accrual rate and protections for anyone within 10 years of their pensions age.

"It is now time for the unions to respond in a responsible manner. The new deal is conditional on agreement being reached in scheme by scheme talks with the unions."