Ministers and union leaders will embark on two weeks of "intensive negotiations" in the wake of Wednesday's mass public sector strikes in an attempt to strike a broad deal on pension reform by Christmas.
Senior sources on both sides of the dispute say that, despite the increased public rhetoric surrounding the strike, a deal to head off future industrial action is "entirely achievable".
A meeting between Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, and Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, alongside other union leaders, could be scheduled for next week. At the same time discussions between unions involved in individual pension schemes and employers will pick up pace in the hope of producing a broad deal by the Government's end-of-year deadline.
Both sides expressed private optimism but warned that sticking points around pension contributions and the specific make-up of individual pension schemes remained. "There will be a genuine attempt by both sides after the strike to resume negotiations to see if we can find a way through together," said one source close to the talks. "There will be quite intensive negotiations ahead – but I detect a willingness on both parties to do a deal."
The private comments were at odds with the public statements of union leaders. Dave Prentis, the head of Unison, warned of further industrial action in the new year. "It could involve rolling programmes, region by region, service by service, workers within particular services – nothing is ruled out at this stage," he said. Mr Barber said he believed the mass walk-out would strengthen the unions' hand. "I am genuinely very confident that the strikes will show not only the strength of feeling among ordinary public sector workers but also that it will do a lot to dispel the Government's myth of 'cosseted public sector workers' and 'gold plated pensions'," he said. A ComRes poll for ITV News at Ten, found that four in ten public sector workers agreed that the strikes are unlikely to succeed, while 47 per cent of the public, do not believe that public sector workers are right to strike.
The Labour leader Ed Miliband appeared to harden his position, saying he did not support strikes because they were "always a sign of failure". But he insisted he would not "demonise" those taking action, and said the Government should be negotiating, not "ramping up the rhetoric".
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