Maude in 15-minute 'token' strike proposal

 

Public sector workers would be allowed to down tools for a 15-minute protest without losing pay if trade unions call off full-scale strikes, a Cabinet minister leading pension negotiations has said.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude floated the unusual idea in an interview with the Financial Times, telling the newspaper: "We're willing to accommodate some kind of token action."

But his office quickly insisted that it was not an offer being made to union leaders.

The TUC has called a day of action on November 30 against the pension reforms, which could involve over two million workers going on strike, the biggest number since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.

Ministers have criticised unions for planning to continue with the industrial action while talks are ongoing and revised offers have been put on the table.

Mr Maude suggested one reason was that union leaders felt obliged to push ahead because of anomalies in strike rules that would otherwise require fresh ballots.

And he renewed warnings that the Government could move to tighten industrial relations laws amid pressure from senior Tories, including Boris Johnson, to require 50% of eligible members to support a strike.

Mr Maude told the Financial Times his message to the unions was: "You shouldn't have got yourself into this mess, but we're willing to help you out because we want to protect the public.

"I can't imagine any employer in the public sector would say if you have a token strike of a quarter of an hour during the day which doesn't affect public services, you lose a day's pay."

Insisting on strikes at this stage, and despite relatively low turnouts in some ballots, meant the unions were "making the case for legislative reform ever more compelling and much harder to resist", he said.

Changes could be made unless they began "engaging intensively to find an agreement".

"The public will find it absolutely intolerable if on November 30 public services are severely disrupted by strike action about negotiations which have not yet been completed and where the public is increasingly sympathetic to the Government's case," in a week when headteachers became the latest group to back strike action, he said.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "As a result of unions rushing pre-emptively to the ballot box while talks are ongoing, they find themselves in a position that they need to take strike action to keep their mandate open and so they don't need to re-ballot.

"Obviously, the Government is keen that any disruption to the public is kept to an absolute minimum, but no such deal has been offered.

"The ballots have thrown up anomalies that are making the case for legislative reform ever more compelling and much harder to resist - and the Government believes the public will find it unacceptable if unions push ahead with widespread and disruptive strike action on November 30 - particularly in view of the very low ballot turnouts." PA

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