More unions vote on pension strikes

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The Independent Online

Unions representing civil servants and physiotherapists became the latest to announce strike ballots today in the bitter row over public sector pensions, bringing the prospect of a winter of discontent closer.

Members of Prospect and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) will vote on whether to strike, raising the threat of massive disruption during the TUC's day of action on November 30.

It is the first strike ballot by the CSP and the first in 27 years by Prospect, which represents 34,000 specialist and professional staff.

Prospect warned of further industrial action unless the deadlocked row over plans to increase pension contributions by 3.2% is broken.

Dai Hudd, the union's deputy general secretary, said: "Prospect will be asking members to take part in the TUC's national day of action because of the unfairness of the Government's proposals and the lack of progress in negotiations.

"If the Government is serious about reaching agreement on pensions, it has to listen to the views of its staff and make moves in their direction, otherwise the so-called consultation exercise is just a sham."

The union said progress in the negotiations has been hampered by the Government not providing key actuarial data necessary to cost the civil service pension scheme.

The Prospect ballot will run from October 24 to November 14.

The CSP said its ballot will begin at the end of next month after the union said feedback from its members showed that physiotherapists were angry at being asked to pay more for a reduced pension that they would have to work longer to receive.

CSP spokesman Alex MacKenzie said: "This will be the first time in 31 years that physiotherapists have been balloted, which illustrates the severity of the situation.

"The CSP and other unions believe that the Government is not truly committed to genuine negotiations on the key issues.

"Our aim remains a negotiated outcome but in the meantime we are reluctantly asking members to consider strike action.

"The NHS pension scheme - which was reformed only three years ago - is both affordable now and sustainable in the long term. It should be remembered that £2 billion more goes into the Treasury each year through contributions from workers than is paid out to retirees.

"These are not gold-plated retirement funds we're talking about either. The average NHS pension is about £7,000 a year.

"To cut that - in the most extreme cases by up to half - would be deeply unfair to physiotherapists and other NHS workers who already face a pay freeze and increased workloads as health service cuts start to bite."

Several unions representing millions of workers are now planning to ballot their members for strikes.

The Public and Commercial Services union confirmed that its members will strike on November 30, followed by a one-month overtime ban.

The union, which represents 250,000 civil servants, said it was also considering more targeted and selective industrial action alongside any taken nationally.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Our union and others across the public sector are now on a war footing to prepare for what would be the biggest strike in UK history.

"If ministers continue to dig their heels in, they will face industrial action by three million civil servants, health workers, teachers and other public servants that will not just last one day, but will be sustained for weeks and months.

"We believe we will continue to enjoy public support because we are not only fighting for the public sector, we are campaigning for fair pensions for all."