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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 18:13 GMT
Public sector workers to strike
A protester at a pensions rally
Public sector unions could strike on 23 March over pensions
A "massive majority" of public sector workers have voted to strike against plans to raise the pension age from 60 to 65, trade unions have said.

Around 1.5m workers were balloted and union figures suggest 73% to 87% voted in favour of a 23 March walkout.

Talks between unions, John Prescott and local authorities failed to break the deadlock, but government officials said talks were "constructive and ongoing".

Unions say the strike could be "the biggest in the past few generations".

Jobcentres, museums and driving test centres would close, benefits would go unpaid, and customs and excise offices would be unmanned, warned the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

If you want the pension you were promised when you started you must work for an extra five years
Mark Serwotka
Public and Commercial Services Union

A spokeswoman for Mr Prescott said talks between the parties are continuing.

"The deputy prime minister met with employers and union leaders last night. The talks were constructive and are ongoing," she said.

The unions want the government to withdraw the regulations - due to be introduced on 1 April.

Unison, the Transport and General Workers' Union, Amicus and Ucatt said their members had voted for strikes by majorities of between 73% and 87%.

The PCS later announced that its 70,000 members had backed strikes by 67%.

The GMB said its ballot results, which will be known in the next few days, would probably show similar support for industrial action.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has also announced plans to ballot members on a one-day strike over government plans to reform their pensions, threatening a second wave of action.

More choice?

A spokesman for the PCS, which would co-ordinate any industrial action, described the government's actions as "arbitrary".

"We are not against people working until they are 65 if that is what they choose," he said.

"But telling people in their forties they have to work until 65 to get the same pension as they thought they would have when they were 60, we think is wrong."

John Prescott, the deputy prime minister
Mr Prescott is due for more talks next week

And Mark Serwotka, PCS leader, accused the government of trying to make people "work until they drop".

"For a government that lectures everyone on choice - choice on public service, choice on this and choice on that - isn't it ironic that they're saying to public sector workers there is no choice?"

BBC labour affairs correspondent Stephen Cape has said all sides are anxious to avoid a major confrontation in the run-up to the general election, expected on 5 May.

Unison's 800,000 workers, the Transport and General Workers' Union's 700,000 and Amicus' 20,000 are among those expected to strike.

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