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More unions back pensions strikes

Senior civil servants have joined the list of public sector workers set to take industrial action on pensions.

The FDA (First Division Association) union balloted 12,500 members, and 81% backed industrial action on a 54% turnout, meaning they could join the mass strikes planned for November 30.

Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the FDA, said: “This is a decisive vote for industrial action, but this ballot should not have been necessary.

“No-one has worked harder than the FDA to seek a negotiated settlement, often in the face of government delay and procrastination. The Government needs to reflect upon why senior public servants feel driven to vote to strike.”

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy said its members in England, Scotland and Wales have also joined Unison and other major unions in voting for industrial action – 86% voted ‘yes’ on a 66% turnout. So far 11 unions have backed the strikes, with ten left to declare their results this week.

Unions yesterday labelled Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s suggestion of a 15 minute ‘token action’ instead of a full day on strike as ‘daft’ and a ‘PR gimmick’.

Over three million workers could take part in the planned strike, but it must be held within 28 days of being called or unions could face having to re-ballot members.

Maude suggested that in order for unions to fulfill this obligation, the Government would be willing to accommodate ‘token action’ where workers stop work for 15 minutes, instead of taking full industrial action. This way they would not lose any pay.

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB union, 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.”

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 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.”

Maude threatened that going ahead with the full strike could force the Government to change the law to implement turnout thresholds, which could mean that half of the union membership would have to vote before the result was considered legitimate.

In an interview with Channel 4 News at the weekend, Maude said: “The turnouts have been very low and, you know, I've got to say to the union leaders, if they actually call a strike based on a ballot where only just more than a quarter of those balloted actually bothered to vote at all then the pressure to change the law to set some kind of turnout threshold will really become very, very hard to resist.”

Any concessions recently offered by the Government, including a more generous accrual rate and a seven-year delay on the full introduction of changes, are conditional on the unions signing a deal with the Government.

Changes to the public sector pension scheme include increasing worker contributions and basing pensions on career average earnings instead of final salaries. A deal will either be accepted, or imposed by the end of the year.

One Whitehall source told the Guardian newspaper: “We are in the right place. Ministers are confident that most of the trade union leaders are keen to reach a deal. But they are being dragged down by hardliners such as the Public and Commercial Services Union. The old saying 'that the convoy moves at the pace of the slowest vehicle' applies here.

“We have to have a deal by the end of the year. If we don't have a deal by then, we will impose one. Ministers are minded to go back to the initial offer, and withdraw what was offered this month, if there is no deal. But there has been no final decision.”

(Image: N Hall)

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