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Union leaders predict 400,000 workers will strike


The Government will face a storm of protest over public sector pensions, pay and jobs tomorrow when tens of thousands of workers, ranging from police officers to immigration staff, will strike and take other forms of action.

Union leaders predict that up to 400,000 workers will be involved in a wave of demonstrations, fuelled by ministers making it clear in today's Queen's Speech that they are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms.

Civil servants, lecturers, health workers, Ministry of Defence staff, immigration officers, off-duty police officers and members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will be among those joining strikes and other forms of protest across the UK.

The walkout follows last November's huge stoppage by over one-and-a-half million workers in protest at the planned changes to their pensions.

Most public sector unions remain opposed to the reforms which they warned would leave millions of workers having to pay more into their pensions, retire later and receive less when they stop work.

Up to 16,000 off-duty officers will don black caps representing each officer expected to be lost under the Government's budget cuts as they take to the streets.

The officers, banned from striking under law, will march through central London in a protest against proposed changes to their pay and conditions.

Some 20,000 officers from all 43 forces across England and Wales are expected to take part in the first police march in the capital for more than four years, organisers said.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the sea of black caps will show the number of officers the public will lose over four years as a result of the cuts.

Unite's assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said: "Tomorrow's industrial action will build on the high level of anger that was on display during the November 30 strikes.

"This anger has been increased by the Government's hardline insistence that public sector employees work longer, pay more and receive less when they eventually retire.

"Our members believe that the Government is attacking their pensions as a means of helping reduce the budget deficit, which has been caused by a greedy City elite, that has brought the economy to its knees. This is blatantly unfair.

"George Osborne's austerity plans are beginning to sicken everyone. A work-until-you-drop culture in this country is not because people want teachers, nurses, firemen struggling at work into their 70s."

The pensions dispute has been raging for over 18 months, with warnings of further strikes in June and throughout the summer.

Ministers insist the current level of public sector pensions is unsustainable and that reforms are needed, saying workers will still receive decent payments on retirement.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "The coalition has reduced tax for super-earners while making cuts to vital public services like jobcentres, borders and tax collection.

"Public sector workers have seen thousands of their colleagues sacked, their pay has been frozen for two years and they are being told they must pay much more and work for up to eight years longer for smaller pensions.

"That's why hundreds of thousands of workers will be striking on Thursday in opposition to the Government's prescription of austerity and misery that has plunged the UK back into recession."

Jobcentres, airports, tax offices, colleges, driving test centres, museums and military sites will all be hit by this week's strike.

Picket lines will be mounted outside Government buildings, Parliament, museums and galleries, while rallies will be held across the country including in London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said: "It is very disappointing that a minority of union insist on carrying on with a futile and disruptive strike action which will benefit no one. We would urge union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and members are risking losing a day's pay for nothing.

"In March we set out our final proposed agreement on pension reform following more than a year of intensive discussions with trades unions. Our reforms ensure that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available and that they can be sustained for the future."

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "This strike is completely unnecessary and we believe the public will find it unacceptable if unions push ahead.

"The security of the UK border is of the utmost importance and we will use contingency plans to ensure we minimise any disruption caused by planned union action. We are preparing to use our trained pool of backroom staff and MoD police to boost staffing levels at ports and airports around the UK."