Minister Francis Maude urges '15-minute strike'

Protesters hold placards in Nottingham city centre during a one day national strike against pension changes and funding cuts to the public sector, June 2011. The government wants to avoid more strikes like those in June 2011

The government has suggested public sector workers planning to strike over pension changes stage a "token" walkout lasting just 15 minutes.

With pension negotiations ongoing, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude suggested "token action" on 30 November meant workers could avoid losing pay.

The union Unison called the government proposal a "PR gimmick".

The strike must be held within 28 days of being called, or unions face having to re-ballot members at major expense.

'Token action'

Mr Maude accepted this rule meant some unions felt the strikes must be held on 30 November because if they were delayed the unions would lose their mandate for industrial action.

He told the BBC a "token action" would get their point across without costing them any pay.

This 15-minute walkout idea is a lot to do with winning the hearts and minds of the wider public in this battle over public sector pensions.

The government wants to appear to be the conciliatory and reasonable negotiator with unions and sway wavering voters who may feel as if it was bullying them.

The 'token strike' notion comes a week after the coalition made a revised offer to unions that no-one within 10 years of retirement would have to work longer to get their full pension.

These carrots from ministers come with a big stick, however.

If public sector unions press ahead with their 'mega strike' at the end of the month, then the government may look hard at reforming strike legislation. That could mean at least half of union members would have to have cast their ballots before a strike became legitimate. Only a quarter of public sector union members voted for the forthcoming walkout.

Mr Maude said: "I do not know of any public sector employer which would not say, that's a token strike, it's going through the motions, it's preserving the union's position.

"You know, I'm trying to help them out of this ridiculous position they've got themselves into, where they've jumped the gun and gone to ballot before the time was remotely appropriate."

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."

But Mr Maude said a whole day of industrial action, amid ongoing negotiations and after just a quarter of the unions' members had taken part in ballots, would strengthen the case for law changes to demand minimum turnouts for valid strike votes.

"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," added Mr Maude.

The negotiations between the government and the unions are technically only relevant for England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland's administrations in separate but aligned talks with unions, said the BBC's business correspondent Joe Lynam.

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."

A Unison spokesman said the government could not guarantee that 9,000 public sector employers would not dock workers' pay.

"It's a load of PR gimmicks to make people think unions are being unreasonable," the spokesman said.

"We're talking about a legitimate ballot. Our members voted a certain way and how that strike goes ahead is not a matter for Francis Maude to dictate."

'Very complex'

The TUC has called a national day of action over pension changes on 30 November and more than three million workers from a range of unions could take part.

But Sir Steve Bullock of the Local Government Association urged local government employees not to take part in any strike.

He said: "All of the public sector pension schemes are very complex and it is entirely possible that you do something quickly which you can live to regret later.

"I would urge everyone who's involved to take the time to give us more opportunity to work up a sustainable scheme."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    What the tories are trying to do to the public sector is defended by the unions.
    The same thing happened to the private sector pensions under a labour government employers supported by the unions. Shame on the unions for double standards they must take part of the blame for this conflict we now see between the two sets of workers who both deserve better from governments and unions

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    I agree that there are many aspects that the Unions need to Modernise to meet the challenges of what is occurring in todays world.

    This will be a slow process just as changing the House of Lords has been a slow process.

    The Unions, perhaps, need to become more professional however, such changes need to happen without the Union administration loosing touch with the people that they represent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    the main critics in the private sector are actually just envious that some people are willing to stand up for themselves rather than lie back and think of england whilst they get shafted again by the powers that be (who are not remotely being genuinely affected by the present economic chaos, and who continue to sleep very soundly at night...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    You old fraud, Maude.
    The amount of money you will save when you stop the wages of the strikers will be very useful in these austere times, won't it? Its like a voluntary 4 day week, innit?

    I don't agree with strikes, but policians should at least be honest about it.

    Fact is, they WANT you to strike!
    Far more effective industrial action is to work harder, accruing overtime and extra hours!

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    The private sector should threaten to go on strike if the public sector get their way, this would have to be a bi-annual event to coincide with the public sector who demand bigger wages and pensions when the economy is doing well, then demand more when the economy is bad and inflation is high..

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    For me to have a pension as good as a public sector worker on the same income I would have to contribute 30% of my salary into a pension scheme compared to the 6.4% a teacher contributes. So, I as a taxpayer and private sector worker who now earns on average less than the public sector workers, has to make up the shortfall!! Some people just don't understand when they have it good!

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    @349 Ellis Birt

    You're wrong, the cost of public sector pensions to the tax payer is reducing and public sector workers are tax payers too. This is because of reforms back in 2007 and 2008 for the LGPS and NHS pensions schemes that are taking effect right now. Yes people are living longer, the reforms took this into account back then.

    This is just a tax on public sector workers, nothing more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    Public sector have too long cosseted by successive governments. My advice to them is to come out their cocoons and face reality if the private sector is not generating taxes how on earth can government pay the public sector.
    To save your job and that of others consider taking home less too many of you are overpaid for what you do and striking will do nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    The pension The public sector workers already recieve is to high,i love the way they expect the private sector to work longer so they can enjoy there retirement''just getting what i agreed'' was one statement,im sure the greeks believed that when they sold the Elgin point is times change

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    342 Blokedowthepub
    The only way to get rid of the government is the ballot box, but thats what the Unions are frightened of. Cant get there own way, they stamp their feet on the ground and cry. You have another 3 years to wait. Perhaps in that time we could all learn to spell

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    I chose a career in public service because I believe in it passionately. I have paid tens of thousands of pounds into my pension in the belief that I was being reponsible and providing for my future instead of relying on the state. I am not allowed to remove this money but the rules are being changed against my will. Of course I'm angry -
    I'd like someone to explain to me what I did wrong?

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    personally, i think the strikes are useless on their own. the government has proven time after time that they will do whatever they want and disregard what the public want without listening. personally i think the only way the government and corporate greedy minority will take note is if we hit them where it hurts & the whole country gets behind a strike, both public/private sectors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    Normal job - small/medium firm = no annual wage rise and you do your own pension if you can afford it (many people can't)
    Public sector job = annual wage rises and you pay into the pension scheme BUT also the employer pay into the pension scheme.
    - possibly you don't even realise that the majority of people in the UK don't have this luxury!

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    As a non public sector union member I totally support any action of this nature for just one good reason....Firemen. What the media isn't reporting (sorry BBC) is that they aren't just striking on pensions but also on reasonable rest periods between shifts and reasonable working hours because believe me I for one would rather have a fireman who is well rested.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    The financial sector pays £50bn+ in taxes per year (even in the bad years around 2008). More than any other sector and about 12% of the UK budget. Banks are immoral? Perhaps... but banking is one of the few things that are still of an international standard here. You can hate it all you like, but if you are reading this in the UK, you are a better off with it than you would be without it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Watch the Cons.They are trying to take away the rights of workers and put them back to the 1920s where the workers had little or no rights and had to do exactly as the big good governors said.Just remember,you anti-worker people,you will be included in this as well.You will have little or no rights and will not be allowed to strike to get a fairer deal.What the boss says will be the order.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    305. Stuart
    If it's such a bad thing for public sector workers to go on strike, maybe they're worth more than we're currently paying them

    ++Slightly saddening that the current age doesn't understand "priciples".No good asking why the private sector have it
    bad and the public don't. Why hasn't the private sector kept up with the good working practices it built up over the 20th century?

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    360.nottinghamboy "1 man working 4 people watching?! " - I'd ask you for even just one solitary example of your claim, but as there are no cases in the public sector of such working practices I shalln't bother because you cannot provide ANY EVIDENCE to back up your claim. A few facts would help this debate, but then why worry about that when it gets in the way of your uninformed opinion...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    @Ellis Birt, not all public sector pensions need altering, the local government pension scheme had alteration made in 2008 that strengthened it's ability to sustain itself for some time to come, but the current government don't care about that, they just want to tax all of us in the public sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    358 shyche
    Not to detract form your public service ethos, which I applaud, is it not also the case that an NHS career, possibly 'numbered post', possibly consultant, is a very useful step in developing a private list?


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