Council workers vote to strike

Council workers are set to take sustained strike action after voting in favour of walkouts in a dispute over pay, it was announced today.

Members of Unison in England, Wales and Northern Ireland voted by 55% to take industrial action after rejecting a 2.45% pay offer.

The union's negotiators will decide tomorrow what action to recommend to the national strike committee later this week.

Dave Prentis, the union's general secretary, said: "This is a solid vote for action and a clear message to the local government employers that our members are willing to fight for a decent pay rise."

Mr Prentis continued: "They are fed up and angry that they are expected to accept pay cut after pay cut while bread and butter prices go through the roof.

"Most of them are low-paid workers, who are hit hardest by food and fuel price hikes, and they see the unfairness of boardroom bonanzas and big City bonuses."

Heather Wakefield, Unison's head of local government, said: "The employers should be in no doubt: the members have voted for a programme of sustained and escalating strike action because they are sick of being treated as the poor relations of the public sector.

"Their case for a realistic pay increase is indisputable."

Unison said 250,000 council workers earned less than £6.50 an hour, and most of them were women.

The unions were claiming a 6% pay rise or 50p an hour, whichever was greater.

Almost 600,000 workers were balloted, including social workers, housing benefit workers, teaching assistants, dinner ladies, cooks, cleaners, architects and refuse collectors.

The last comparable strike in local government was in March 2006, when a million workers turned out to support a campaign over pension rights.

Rallies, pickets and marches were held across the country, resulting in closures of libraries, schools, social services departments, museums and housing offices, while rubbish was left uncollected and streets left uncleaned.