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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 March 2006, 14:51 GMT
Council staff back mass strikes
Council worker
Up to 1.5 million council staff will stage a walkout
Council workers have voted for what could be the UK's biggest industrial action since the General Strike of 1926, in protest at pension changes.

Up to 1.5 million staff will stage a walkout on 28 March following a ballot of unions representing cooks, refuse collectors, home helps and others.

The unions are angry at government plans to scrap a rule that allows some to retire on a full pension at 60.

Councils say that costs mean this must rise to 65 for all employees.

'Burning resentment'

About four-fifths of the members of eight trade unions - including Unison, the Transport and General Workers Union and the GMB - who took part in a national ballot, voted for strike action. The turnout was 28%.

Union leaders also warned there could be further strikes and other industrial action in the run up to the local council elections in May.

It is deeply disappointing that even before any decisions have been made the unions have chosen to go down the route of industrial action
Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart
Local Government Association

Many civilian police support staff will also be affected.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said the government had "destroyed the retirement plans of tens of thousands of public sector workers".

He added: "Our members do not take strike action lightly but there is a burning resentment among people who have paid into pensions week in, week out and find they are being treated differently to other public sector workers."

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB, agreed, saying: "This is an outrage and the employers need to listen carefully."

'Think again'

But Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "It is deeply disappointing that even before any decisions have been made the unions have chosen to go down the route of industrial action.

"There is no majority or mandate for strikes, and this is something the union leaders should think long and hard about. Any stoppages would affect some of the most vulnerable in our society."

Sir Sandy said council taxpayers could not pay more. He argued contributions from staff were not balanced with the employer contributions paid with taxpayers' money.

The government has said the so-called Rule 85 - which lets staff retire at 60 with their accrued pension if their age plus years worked equals 85 or above - is to be removed.

If the rule ends, all two million local government workers will work until the age of 65 by 2013.

Discussion continues

Ministers say the rule will become illegal under new regulations aimed at outlawing age discrimination.

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said the government was committed to decent and secure pensions for council staff.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's role was to ensure the local government pension scheme remained solvent.

"Negotiations regarding the terms of the benefit package offered by the scheme, and how its costs are met between employees and employers, is a key area for the trades unions and local government employers," said the spokesman.

"Any ballot in favour of strike action is entirely a matter for the trades unions."

He said the department wanted to continue discussing reform of the pension scheme with all groups, including the unions.

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