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
    +9

    Comment number 365.

    A bigger proportion voted for strike than population voted for Tories - does that make Tory government not valid.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 364.

    A wide range of careers are available in the public sector, such as nursing, teaching, the armed forces, the emergency services as well as the civil service and working in local council.
    Are the public service bashers on here tarring us all with the same brush.
    For example:
    "How long do they think we will be satisfied with crap services while they rob us blind?"

  • rate this
    +55

    Comment number 363.

    It is important that people realise this isn't about spoiled public sector workers whining about losing a privilege. There are many care/health workers who will face a grim old age when they have devoted their careers to looking after people themselves. Social care already has low pay, long hours and few perks. We fight a losing battle with budgets, neglect and a society that doesn't care.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 362.

    347
    The Unions have not only been good for the workers!

    Without the better food, education, increased quality of life that workers have where do you think the increases in productivity have come from that have benefited both the employer and the workers?

    The system is a partnership kick the workers too hard impose a harsh Tory ideology on works and Everyone except the very wealthy will suffer.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 361.

    Classic dilute and divide tactics from Mr Maude. Probably yesterday's remembrance of WWI has given him the idea of "Over the top chaps, I'll be watching you".

    Sacrificing your troops is less fashionable nowadays, even if they are "injured to the extent of redundancy".

  • rate this
    -27

    Comment number 360.

    These public sector worker who are complaining need to get a grip on reality, compare your workload against someone in the private sector, compare your pension, compare your working conditions..... how many of us say 'looks like a council job...' 1 man working 4 people watching?! which is why the council tax is so much, more needs to happen to get an honest days work from ALL public sector staff

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 359.

    I hope the train drivers are striking as well. Then I'll work from home, prove to my employer that I can work perfectly well that way and not have to travel in each day. A lot of people will do the same, stop commuting every day, thus reducing demand for trains and their drivers. Being greedy will eventually come back to bite you on the bum!

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 358.

    I dont recognise this talk of overpaid public sector worker. Im in my mid 30s & make about £41k, rising to £70k as a doctor. If i worked in private sector, my salary would be slighty less than £120k. People of similar skills & attainment in private sector make £70k - £750k in other sectors (e.g finance, management). 2 reason for doing what i do: NHS pension & public service ethos.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 357.

    Wouldn't care to record what I think of Arnold55555's comment - other than it's the usual twaddle coming from the uninitiated. It wasn't the public sector that got us into this mess - it was the greed in the private sector. As ever the government is doing its best to deflect its incompetence in dealing with the banks etc by pitting the private sector against the public sector - an easy target.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 356.

    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.

    Stuart, you just hit the nail on the head - well said!

  • rate this
    +13

    Comment number 355.

    Sounds to me like Francis Maud and the government is a bit scared that large parts of the public sector are going to grind to a halt.

    My IT team of 8 staff will be decimated when 7 of us walk out on the 30th. It will be the first time we have ever gone out on strike in the 12 years I have been a public sector employee. Sorry, but the government has left us very little choice.

  • rate this
    -10

    Comment number 354.

    The negotiation is not about the debt run up by Labour, nor about the bankers, it is about the future ability of taxpayers to fund schemes designed when we all died earlier. Private sector has had to adjust, so does the public sector. No-one likes it, no one wants it, but none of us can have what we can't afford without later getting hit with the debts we built. Stop whining, grow up.

  • rate this
    -22

    Comment number 353.

    Public sector workers need to remember for once whom they work for.

    Us.

    How long do they think we will be satisfied with crap services while they rob us blind?

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 352.

    People are rightly blaming the banks, however in the UK/EU they are untouchable. If the UK/ EU try and tax them, they will move East and there WILL be huge redundancies, and the money lost to HMRC would be mind blowing. Financial Services is the UKs biggest asset from an ongoing income point (incl staff).We cannot lose it!

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 351.

    I'm not in a union and I won't be striking but I want people to know that the changes to pensions will apparently leave people like me £3,000 a year worse off when I retire (at 68) and I will have had to pay more out of my wages for this. I am a care worker, I earn less than the average salary and the amount I already pay into my local govt pension ensures I can't save much...

  • rate this
    +9

    Comment number 350.

    private sector workers seems to be the main critics of public sector workers who are merely defending what has already been agreed. Its a great shame the private sector don't grow a backbone too and defend what they are presently losing.

  • rate this
    -7

    Comment number 349.

    How do the Trade Unionosts suggest the government should pay an ever increasing public sector pensions bill in the future?

    Raise taxes and you'll hit private and public sector workers alike.

    'Tax the rich' and they will take their skills and wealth overseas.

    And don't even think of making private sector workers work even longer - I'll already end up working 7 years longer than a teacher!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 348.

    As a public sector worker, I am happy to pay a fair contribution to my pension, but I don't want to see extra contributions go into the general treasury funds. That would amount to an additional tax only on those of us employed by the public sector.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 347.

    Zakmann there is no doubting the unions have been good for workers but times have changed yet the only change from the unions is to pay huge salaries to their senior officials and to agree with my employer that I should work longer and take a reduced pension in the private sector. The public sector deserve their pensions and I hope they keep it but the unions need to modernise not many join now

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 346.

    so now they are telling how to strike, when to strike and long to strike for?? The tories just dont get it do they!

 

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