Exclusive

Union boss's private talks with ministers to avert mass strikes

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

TUC leader met Osborne and Alexander during Tory conference

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, held private talks in Manchester this week with four senior ministers – including the Chancellor, George Osborne – in an attempt to avert next month's planned one-day strike, the biggest for a generation. Behind the scenes, Mr Osborne is coming under pressure from ministers to show more flexibility over cutting the bill for public-sector pensions.

Mr Barber met the ministers, who included the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and the Tory Cabinet Office ministers Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin, for informal talks in the margins of the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester – in a move that could open the door to a deal. He is understood to have told them that, to resolve the dispute, they need to reassure the unions they are not trying to dismantle their pension schemes.

Mr Osborne has insisted that the reforms must go ahead to save £2.8bn a year by 2014-15 as part of his deficit-reduction strategy. But ministers, among them Mr Maude and Mr Letwin, believe the Treasury's hard line is reducing the prospects of successful negotiations between the Government and trade unions.

One Tory insider told The Independent: "There is still a chance we can make progress, but it will require the Treasury to show more flexibility than it has done so far." The Chancellor's allies deny he is a stumbling block. They insist he has made clear that, as long as the £2.8bn target is achieved, he is open to "different ways of cutting the cake" and say the Cabinet is united behind the Treasury's stance.

The next formal talks between union leaders and ministers will take place on 24 October. But time is running out to avert a "day of action" on 30 November, expected to cause widespread disruption. Thirteen unions representing more than two million employees are balloting their members on taking part and four others who stopped work for a day in June already have a mandate for action.

Mr Barber addressed a fringe meeting at the Tory conference on Tuesday night. He shared a platform with Mr Letwin, David Cameron's policy chief, and Mr Alexander.

The TUC chief also spoke informally to Mr Osborne and Mr Maude. He is understood to have warned that the unions remain bruised by the way changes to pensions were announced without any prior consultation.

The changes include an average 3.2 per cent rise in contributions from next April, raising pensions in line with the consumer prices index rather than the retail prices index, and demanding that people work longer before they can draw their pensions.

Mr Barber stressed that unions were committed to reaching an agreement, but urged ministers to table new proposals. One possible compromise involves how the pension changes are phased in. Mr Maude told The Independent's fringe meeting in Manchester: "We will be setting out the proposed costings for each of the [pension] schemes. There is a lot to discuss around the transitional arrangements."

Yesterday David Cameron told the Tory conference the unions had "every right to protest" but added: "Our population is ageing. Our public-sector pensions system is unaffordable."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Sport
sport
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all