Neither side blinking as pensions walkout nears

This week's strike will be much larger than the walkout seen this spring
This week's strike will be much larger than the walkout seen this spring

By Alex Stevenson

Wednesday's strikes look increasingly likely after further defiance from union chiefs over their public sector pensions clash with the coalition this weekend.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told the Observer ministers had "deliberately misrepresented the generosity of their proposals".

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the BBC that he had never received a formal offer from ministers.

"They've established principles that we don't even know are going to be given to our members, and yet they say that this deal - and there isn't one there yet - is to be taken away if we take the action," he claimed.

A government spokesperson responded to that claim by insisting it was "simply not true" to suggest the coalition's offer had not been put to union leaders.

"This offer is as good as it gets – a deal that most people in the private sector can only dream of being offered," a spokesperson said.

The impasse means a range of public services including libraries, courts and schools are expected to be hit in the mass walkout this Wednesday.

Civil servants are being drafted in to man Britain's border controls after the state of the UK's border security endangered home secretary Theresa May's job earlier this month.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander claimed the government had done all it could to reach a deal.

But he told the Guardian newspaper yesterday that he might withdraw the coalition's offer, protecting all accrued rights, if the strike went ahead.

"I reserve the right to take those enhancements off the table if an agreement can't be reached. I don't want to do that," he said.

"I don't want to be in that position. I want to be in a position where we have got an agreement."

Mr Alexander may be forced to bring his four-year-old child into work as a result of the disruption.

He added: "I believe that many unions I talk to are serious and sincere about their desire to reach an agreement, but they are obviously going to have to persuade their own members who they've marched up this hill that in fact the agreement and the nature of the deal on offer is a good one."

As the standoff intensifies, shadow chancellor Ed Balls raised eyebrows by saying he felt "great sympathy" for those preparing for the walkout.

"This isn't about trade union leaders - this is about dinner ladies and teaching assistants and people in local government who feel as though they've worked hard for 30 years and suddenly are being stung at a late stage in their career - predominantly low-paid women," he told the Independent on Sunday.

"I have huge sympathy with them. Despite the best efforts of civil servants and negotiators and maybe some ministers, it is pretty clear that, at the most senior level, the government's been determined to have a confrontation."

Mr Balls called on both sides to give ground. But with limited contact between the two sides that seems improbable ahead of Wednesday's strikes.

Two million workers are set to strike, resulting in the closure of 20,000 schools as well as disruption at airports, hospitals and ports.


Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.