Ultimatum to public sector: accept pension deal or lose it at end of year - UK Politics - UK - The Independent

Ultimatum to public sector: accept pension deal or lose it at end of year

Unions further angered by minister's warning as 2 million prepare to take industrial action

Tensions soared between unions and ministers last night as Britain braced itself for two million public sector workers to walk out on Wednesday, in the biggest show of industrial strength since the 1970s.

As the Government issued a warning that it would withdraw an improved offer if the bitter pensions dispute was not settled by the end of the year, the TUC accused it of "alienating its entire workforce". Plans for marches, pickets and protests are being finalised across the country, despite last-minute pleas from ministers for the action to be suspended. Brendan Barber, the TUC's general secretary, said it was unlikely that the strikes, which are being supported by 29 unions, would be averted.

Most schools are expected to shut for the day, some 60,000 routine operations and hospital appointments will be cancelled, council services will be closed and border controls will be thrown into disarray. Contingency arrangements for the strikes will be discussed today at a session of the government's emergency committee, Cobra.

The dispute centres on Government moves to increase the pensions contributions of most public sector staff, with each side accusing the other of failing to negotiate in good faith. They have stepped up their rhetoric in recent days, conscious that the battle for public sympathy could become an important factor in the outcome of the struggle.

Attempts to settle the dispute will resume later this week. But progress is slow because of the number of negotiations going on in parallel over individual pension schemes. There is no sign of the dispute going to arbitration.

Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, argued yesterday that most employees of private companies would give their "eye teeth" to have a pension scheme equivalent to the Government's latest "generous" offer to public sector staff two weeks ago.

"There needs to be agreement on the main elements [of the offer] by the end of this year and, if there isn't, we reserve the right to take those elements off the table," he told Sky News.

He added that there had been a low turnout to the ballots for planned action, which he said strengthened the case for new laws requiring a minimum number of union members to vote before a strike is approved. Mr Maude also confirmed that the UK Border Agency was considering drafting in the army to man border controls on Wednesday.

Mr Barber said: "The Government has managed to alienate its entire workforce. Even health service staff, who are very reluctant to strike, will be leaving their workplaces, although they have ensured proper emergency cover. Ministers must take notice of the strength of feeling of its workforce."

He also accused the Government of "deliberately misleading" workers over the impact of planned changes to their pensions, attacking ministers' claims that all those on low and middle incomes would get as good, or better, pension terms under the new scheme.

Brian Strutton, national secretary of the GMB, said: "Only a last minute breakthrough in negotiations can stop the strike, but that isn't going to happen if we are not even meeting. Increasingly wild government statements to the media while refusing to talk to us face-to-face tells its own story."

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, likened negotiations with the Government to "boxing in the dark".

But Conservative deputy chairman Michael Fallon hit back by accusing the unions of refusing to negotiate. He said: "It's an improved offer which we put out there, and we haven't yet had a proper response."

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said: "I would urge the Government to get round the table, give some ground and sort this out."

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week