UK Politics

Unions call 'national day of action' over pensions

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Media captionBrendan Barber: "Biggest trade union mobilisation for a generation"

Unions have called on a nationwide "day of action" for 30 November, which threatens to disrupt public services across the UK.

Strikes, rallies and other events will be held in protest at the government's decision to increase workers' pension contribution payments.

TUC boss Brendan Barber urged ministers to "engage in a genuine spirit of seeking agreement" to end the deadlock.

Chancellor George Osborne branded the strike plans "deeply irresponsible".

Four unions - Unison, Unite, the GMB and the Fire Brigades' Union - are already balloting over co-ordinated industrial action.

Mr Barber said 10 other unions were also looking to hold a vote on strikes.

He promised 30 November would bring "the biggest trade union mobilisation for a generation".

'Fight of our lives'

Unions and the government have been in talks over pension contribution rises since the beginning of the year, with ministers saying the change - scheduled for next April - is needed to make schemes sustainable in the face of an ageing population.

On Wednesday, the TUC voted unanimously in favour of action against the move as its annual conference came to a close.

Following this, 24 union leaders held a meeting where the 30 November date was chosen.

Mr Barber told the BBC it could be the first of several such days, saying: "If there's no progress, then potentially we will see very widespread industrial action across the public services."

He added: "We are absolutely committed to justice for the millions of workers we represent."

Events will "range from strike action, where ballot mandates have been secured from members and unions judge that appropriate, through to lunchtime meetings, rallies and joint events with community groups and service users", Mr Barber said.

Union leaders will hold another meeting at the end of September to co-ordinate their actions.

Mr Osborne said: "Everyone who's sensible accepts that public sector pensions have to be reformed.

"The offer on the table is for public sector pensions that are far better than most in the private sector and fairer to taxpayers.

"Unions must not take this deeply irresponsible action at this time. It would do nothing for our country."

'Major disruption'

Proposing a motion backing mass strikes to the TUC conference, Unison leader Dave Prentis revealed he was giving 9,000 employers formal notice that his union's 1.1 million members would be balloted.

He added: "It's the fight of our lives. I know it's an over-used cliché, but make no mistake, this is it."

The GMB's Brian Strutton said: "We're not talking about a day out and a bit of a protest. We're talking about something that's long and hard and dirty as well, because this is going to require days of action running through the winter, through into next year, following the government's legislative programme right into the summer."

For Labour, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: "I hope there won't be strikes."

But he added: "I totally understand people saying 'If there isn't a fair deal, then we are going to vote yes in a ballot'."

Neil Bentley, deputy director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "Strikes cause major disruption for families and businesses, and mass strike action would mean thousands of parents forced to take a day off work to look after their children. We urge union leaders to get round the table with the government and negotiate on the details."

Labour leader Ed Miliband was heckled at the TUC conference on Tuesday when said a one-day strike in June over pensions had been a "mistake" and urged unions to continue the talks with the government.

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