Talks bid to avert pension strikes

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The Independent Online

Talks aimed at averting a wave of strikes by public sector workers in a bitter row over pensions will be held tomorrow, with the Government saying it is committed to "genuine engagement" with the unions.

The meeting between ministers and union leaders follows the announcement by the TUC of a day of action on November 30 in protest at planned increases in the pension contributions of millions of workers.

Several unions are now preparing to hold ballots for strikes, with the aim of co-ordinating industrial action.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We are totally committed to genuine engagement with the unions. We have a lot to talk about and there are proposals on the table for discussion.

"Thursday's meeting with the TUC is part of ongoing talks. Central discussions have been going on for several months, and the Government is committed to working with the unions to achieve necessary reforms.

"It is extremely disappointing that the TUC is calling on union members to lose a day's pay and go on strike while serious talks are still ongoing. This is a genuine and meaningful dialogue, which includes discussions about how to implement the changes on contributions set out in the spending review.

"The Government is committed to this dialogue in order to agree a way forward. However, the unions also need to commit to genuine engagement and make constructive proposals."

Union leaders met local government employers today to discuss the dispute.

A TUC spokesman said: "We are determined to do our best to end this dispute through negotiation. But, despite many hours of talks, we have had little or no movement from ministers on the substantive issues.

"We hope that the obvious growing anger of staff across the public sector will help persuade the Government that they need to not just talk but start to seek agreement."

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB union, said: "The Cabinet Office statement again says that Government is willing to discuss implementation. GMB don't want to just discuss - we want to negotiate, and we don't want this just to be about implementation of decisions already made.

"We want negotiations to be about the key principles; namely, how much public sector workers have to pay for their pensions, how much they will get and when they will get it.

"It is the refusal of Government to genuinely negotiate that has forced the unions to ballot for industrial action and the Cabinet Office seems incapable of realising this."