Firms should allow parents to bring their children to work during next week's pensions strike by public sector workers, the Prime Minister said today as he indicated he might be willing to make it harder to take industrial action.
Millions of parents are expected to struggle with childcare as teachers take part in a 24-hour walkout next Wednesday, which could see over two million workers on strike in the biggest outbreak of industrial unrest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent.
There were calls for changes in strike laws from the Tory benches in the Commons after senior Tory MP Richard Ottaway said strikes should be banned unless 50% or more of a union's members voted for it.
David Cameron said at Prime Minister's Questions that the strikes were the "height of irresponsibility" and a "tragedy" at a time when an "extremely reasonable" pensions offer was on the table.
He challenged Labour to condemn the mass walkout, which he said would lead to the closure of most of the classrooms in the country, with head teachers planning to join other staff in the action.
It has emerged that immigration officials working overseas have been asked if they are willing to return to the UK to keep ports and airports running during the strike.
A spokesman for UK Border Agency said: "Our priority is to secure the border and we make no excuse for exploring all options, including asking staff posted abroad to fly home, to ensure we are able to manage any disruption which may be caused by strike action."
Downing Street confirmed that contingency plans were under way to limit the impact of the strike, but declined to discuss details.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are considering our contingency plans, but we are not providing any details of those. The public will expect us, as the Government, to do what we can to mitigate the effects of the strikes."
Essex Police staff belonging to Unison, including community support officers (PCSOs), detention officers, service desk staff and communications officers answering emergency and routine calls from the public, said they will join the mass strike.
Barry Faber of Unison said: "This is a fight against the government proposals to reduce the value of all public sector pensions whilst expecting us to pay more. This is not an attack on our employers."
The Association of Professional Ambulance Personnel, which is not affiliated to the TUC, said its members voted by 53.5% not to strike next week.
Mr Cameron told MPs: "It is wrong that these strikes are going ahead when these negotiations are under way, it is wrong to strike and close so many classrooms and essential services, but it is being done on the basis on these turnouts.
"Just one quarter of Unison members voted to strike, just 23% of those balloted at Unite voted in favour. I am not surprised Labour members want to shout me down. We know why they won't condemn the strikes because we have got the figures today from where they get the money from.
"In his first year as leader of the party, 86% of Labour's donations have come from the trade unions. Under the last Labour leader it was 56%. Is that the only thing you have improved since the time of Gordon Brown?"
Asked about whether they were considering changes to the law, No 10 aides said "We are not at that stage", adding: "It is never off the table."
A source indicated that No 10 staff could be among those who were able to bring their children to work.
She said: "Downing Street would be one of the places where if you want to bring your children, that could be arranged."
Mr Cameron's official spokesman rejected claims that the Prime Minister was secretly pleased at the prospect of strikes because he believes they will be politically advantageous to the Government.
The spokesman said: "The accusation has been put that we are secretly delighted that there is going to be strike action next week. I am saying that that is not true.
"If there is large-scale strike action, that will affect many people across the country. We will focus our efforts on engaging constructively with the unions and putting in place plans to mitigate the effects of strike action.
"Clearly, we would prefer to avoid strike action, because of the impact it will have on the general public."