Civil servants walk out in pay strike

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The Independent Online

Picket lines were mounted outside Jobcentres and benefit offices across Britain today as the biggest strike in the Civil Service for more than a decade got under way, with workers' anger over pay fuelled by fresh fears about job cuts.

Up to 85,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union were staging a 48-hour walkout following the collapse of pay talks, with the threat of further industrial action to come.

The Department for Work and Pensions described the strike as "indefensible" and said contingency plans were in place to minimise disruption.

The union said early indications were that the stoppage was being solidly supported by workers determined to make a stand over low pay rates in the Civil Service.

Mark Serwotka, the union's general secretary, said low pay was "endemic" in the Civil Service and called on Government ministers to get involved in the dispute to help break the deadlock.

Workers' anger was worsened by reports today that a Government inquiry into the Civil Service is to recommend 80,000 job cuts.

Mr Serwotka said the union would oppose any moves to cut jobs, pointing out that vital services such as the New Deal, immigration and Customs were carried out by frontline as well as back-office civil servants.

He added: "The Civil Service is an easy target. Last week, it was Tory leader Michael Howard warning of a recruitment freeze and now civil servants are facing another kick in the teeth.

"We will oppose any cuts and we call on ministers to engage in dialogue as a matter of urgency."

Driving test examiners will also strike tomorrow in a separate row over pay which the PCS warned will lead to the cancellation of up to 5,000 tests in England, Scotland and Wales.

Disputes are also looming in several other Government departments because of the failure to resolve pay negotiations.