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Mass strike ballots will go ahead, say unions

media captionBrendan Barber: "As things stand we are still a long way apart"

Unions say they will go ahead with ballots for mass strike action over pensions, after talks with ministers fail to reach a breakthrough.

Several unions are holding votes on a "day of action" on 30 November, in protest at plans to increase pension contributions by public sector workers.

They say changes the are unfair and financially unnecessary.

But ministers insist that pension contributions must be increased to make schemes sustainable.

The meeting, between the TUC-led delegation and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, followed months of inconclusive discussions.

'Not appropriate'

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told the BBC there had been no "dramatic change", with the two sides still "a long way apart", but promised there would be further talks.

He added: "Unions will continue to step up their efforts with the ballots of their members and planning of industrial action.

"But we remain absolutely committed to this process, to try to see if it's possible to reach a negotiated settlement without the need for that industrial action."

Nine unions - including Unison, Unite, the Fire Brigades' Union, Prospect and the GMB - announced at the TUC's annual conference last week that they were preparing to ballot for industrial action or to register "trade disputes" with the government.

Four others who took industrial action in June - the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union and University and College Union - do not need to hold another ballot if they want to strike.

And the National Union of Head Teachers - which has never organised a strike in its 114-year history - announced on Thursday that it would ballot members, starting on 29 September.

'Constructive proposals'

However, the British Medical Association Council said on Wednesday that it had decided this course was "not appropriate" for its members, but did not rule out "industrial action of some kind in the future".

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We are totally committed to genuine engagement with the unions. We have a lot to talk about and there are proposals on the table for discussion."

He added that unions had to make "constructive proposals", saying: "It is extremely disappointing that the TUC is calling on union members to lose a day's pay and go on strike while serious talks are still ongoing."

Asked to condemn the strike plans in an interview with New Statesman magazine, Labour leader Ed Miliband - who was jeered at the TUC conference last week when he declined to back calls for action - said: "I'm not going to get into hypotheticals about strikes that may or may not happen.

"What I'm going to do is say government has a responsibility to properly negotiate and they're not doing it and they've got to do it.

"The unions have to make their own judgement about what they do."

More on this story

  • Head teachers announce ballot date for pensions strike

  • TUC conference: Brendan Barber on strikes and union support