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Public sector workers take to the streets for nationwide strike

More than one million public sector workers will go on strike today in protest over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Members of six unions – National Union of Teachers (NUT), Fire Brigades Union (FBU), Unison, Unite, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and the GMB – will take part in what is expected to be the UK’s biggest round of industrial action for three years.

Leaders of the unions say that more than one million workers were balloted ahead of today’s strikes and there will be more than 50 marches and rallies across England and Wales. There will also be numerous picket lines at schools, council offices, depots and fire stations across the country.

Speaking ahead of the strike action, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Across the public sector workers are on strike today to say enough is enough. Year after year pay has failed to keep up with the cost of living. Public sector workers are on average more than £2,000 worse off under this government.

“Nearly half a million local government workers earn less than the living wage. But even as the economy starts to grow, ministers have told them that the pay cap will last until at least 2018. This is why today’s strikers deserve public support.”

However, the government has raised doubts over how many people will be taking part in the strike action today. A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “In past years, unions made inflated claims about how many they thought would participate in strike action. They were shown to be wrong. We have rigorous contingency plans in place but we expect the majority of hard-working public servants to turn up for work across the country.”

Prime minister David Cameron has also stated that it is now time to “set thresholds” on union ballots and has pledged to include this in the Tory manifesto.

The biggest issue in the public sector dispute is over pay, after ministers froze public sector salaries in 2010 and introduced a 1% cap on pay rises in 2012 which remains in place.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PSC, which represents civil servants, said: “Wages are falling further behind the cost of living and in the last four years some civil servants have seen their income fall by 20%. Unequal pay is also rife, with some paid thousands of pounds less than their colleagues doing similar work, and women paid up to 14% less than men.”

The NUT, which states the action is a “last resort”, is in protest over performance related pay, working until 68 for a full pension and the heavy workload faced by teachers.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “Teachers deeply regret having to take strike action. We are aware that this causes problems and disruption for parents and carers. However, despite months in talks with Government officials, the real issues of our dispute over pay, pensions and conditions of service have not been addressed.

Firefighters are also involved in the industrial action in a row over changes to their pensions and increasing the retirement age. Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: “Three years of negotiations have come to nothing because the government is simply unwilling to compromise or even listen to reason despite a huge amount of evidence showing their planned scheme is unworkable.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “No-one wants to see a strike, not least because of the impact on children and parents. Instead of ramping up the rhetoric the government should get round the table, because both sides have a responsibility to stop it happening.”

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