Unions reject 15-minute strike idea


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Union leaders today attacked a Government minister for making a "daft" suggestion that public sector workers wouldn't lose any pay if they only go on strike for 15 minutes during a day of action later this month.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said that the Government was willing to accommodate some kind of "token action" when public sector workers strike over pensions on November 30.

Public sector workers would be allowed to down tools for a 15-minute protest without losing pay if trade unions called off full-scale strikes, he said in a newspaper interview.

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB union, who has attended a series of meetings with ministers this year over the planned pension reforms, said: "Maude's proposal for a 15 minute strike is a daft idea. We are asking members to vote for a strike not a tea break.

"What he says is unlawful anyway which is surprising coming from a minister.

"He should focus more on the negotiations which are at a critical stage."

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "If Francis Maude had genuinely wanted this idea to be taken seriously I would have expected him to have raised it directly with the TUC and unions rather than play it as a PR gambit in a press interview.

"The way to resolve this dispute and avoid industrial action is to make real progress and acceptable offers in the negotiations. Francis Maude seems to want to divert attention away from the government's failure to make proper offers in scheme negotiations.

"Ministers had better make their mind up whether they intend to negotiate genuinely in good faith or through the megaphone of media stunts."

The day of action on November 30 could see 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.

He renewed warnings that the Government could move to tighten industrial relations laws amid pressure from senior Tories, including London Mayor Boris Johnson, to require 50 per cent 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. PA