Union leaders threaten more public sector strikes

 

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The Independent Online

Union leaders today warned that Britain could face a year of strikes by public sector workers if the increasingly bitter row over pensions  is not resolved.

The government warned that opposition to the controversial pension reforms is likely to be extended - with disruption lasting throughout the year.

The warnings came on a day of strike action by up to 400,000 public sector staff members angry at changes to their pensions and continuing government austerity measures.

NHS workers, border control staff, civil servants and lecturers all took part in a 24-hr strike with tens of thousands of people attending a central London rally.

An estimated 20,000 off-duty police officers also held a rare protest in London against police budget cuts and changes to their pay and conditions.

Public sector union officials said today's strike, the latest salvo in the bitter battle over pensions, was well supported.

But the government disputed the figure of 400,000 people on strike, saying the number is likely to be half that.

Today's action is likely to be fuelled by yesterday's Queen's Speech that made clear that ministers were intent on pursuing the reforms.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude described the strike as "futile" and insisted that talks over pensions would not be reopened.

The PCS union said it estimates that the overwhelming majority of its public sector members would be taking part in the strike.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union told the BBC the cost of pensions was falling as a proportion of GDP.

"We pay more and not a penny goes into anybody's pension fund," he said.

"In every major public sector scheme - health, education and the civil service - the majority of trade unions have refused to accept these cuts in their pensions."

The union also said that early indications from the picket lines showed solid support for the strike.

Meanwhile, around 20,000 off-duty police officers took part in a demonstration in central London.

The officers wore black caps to  represent each officer they say is expected to be lost in the police budget cuts.

Prison officers across the country also walked out and members of the Prison Officers Association held protest meetings over proposed changes to their pension plans.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said, "The POA has submitted a case to Government to support our view that it is unrealistic for prison officers to be automatically linked to the state pension age, which will ultimately rise to 68 years of age.

"Unfortunately, it has fallen on deaf ears and prison officers have no other option but to protest to gain public attention."

POA chairman PJ McParlin said, "We are an essential uniformed service in a volatile operational workplace. A pension age of 68 is unacceptable to this trade union. We will protect our pensions. We have a right to retire from service not to die in service."

Francis Maude said today, "It is very disappointing that a handful of unions insist on carrying on with futile strike action which will benefit no one.

"We would urge these union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and nothing further will be achieved through strike action."

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