Page last updated at 16:32 GMT, Monday, 23 June 2008 17:32 UK

Council workers vote for strike

Refuse worker
Unions have to give seven days' notice of strike action

Council workers have voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay, the union Unison has announced.

Members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland voted by 55% to strike, after rejecting a 2.45% pay offer.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said this was "a clear message" to employers "that our members are willing to fight for a decent pay rise".

The union's negotiators will make a decision about what action to recommend to the national strike committee later.

'Bring down government'

Mr Prentis said his members were "fed up and angry they are expected to accept pay cut after pay cut while bread and butter prices go through the roof.

"Most of them are low-paid workers, who are hit hardest by food and fuel price hikes, and they see the unfairness of boardroom bonanzas and big City bonuses."

Everything from local government will stop - we are talking about bins, schools, council offices, environmental health inspectors - all those important services that local communities rely on
Heather Wakefield

The union boss has already warned that public sector workers could bring down the government at the next election if rows over pay are not resolved.

Unison says 250,000 council workers earn less than 6.50 an hour and most of them are women. They are demanding a 6% pay rise or 50p an hour extra, whichever is greater.

Almost 600,000 workers were balloted, including school dinner staff, classroom assistants, cooks, social workers, architects and refuse collectors.

Heather Wakefield, Unison's head of local government, said: "We are proposing an initial two-days all out strike action in July and then we will see where we go from there.

"Everything from local government will stop. We are talking about bins, schools, council offices, environmental health inspectors - all those important services that local communities rely on.

"We think they deserve to be paid at least in line with inflation for doing that."

We will be very keen to support our Unison colleagues in any way we can
Brian Strutton

But a Communities and Local Government spokesman said it was "disappointed" Unison was backing strike action and the disruption it will bring to some local services.

"We hope that the trade unions can continue to work with the local authority employers to reach an affordable pay deal," he said.

And Brian Baldwin, chairman of the local government employers' negotiators, said: "Any strike action Unison calls could have serious implications for some of the most vulnerable people in society and would not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer.

"If the pay settlement was set any higher, then councils will be forced into making unpalatable choices between cutting front line services and laying off staff. Neither unions nor employers would want either of these options.

The vote comes after Chancellor Alistair Darling said he wanted people from the "boardroom to the shop floor" to take pay rises "consistent" with the government's 2% inflation target.

Mr Darling was speaking after the government's preferred inflation measure, the Consumer Prices Index rose, to 3.3% in May, with the Bank of England warning it may reach 4%.

The wider Retail Prices Index measure of inflation - the one used for many pay negotiations - is already at 4.3%.

GMB support

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber argued: "Our economic difficulties are caused by reckless lending by bankers and current inflation comes from higher oil, food and commodity prices.

"Asking low-paid and average earners in public or private sector jobs to make sacrifices when those who caused the difficulties continue to draw record bonuses breaches any test of fairness."

Local government workers in the GMB union have accepted the same deal, but officials say this is only because they cannot afford to go on strike.

National officer Brian Strutton said: "We will be very keen to support our Unison colleagues in any way we can."

David Cameron urges government to be strong with unions

The Public and Commercial Services union has a number of unresolved pay disputes which could result in strikes among civil service workers this summer.

Conservative leader David Cameron warned the government it was going to have to be "extremely tough" on unions to avert a wave of strikes.

He said Labour was "so reliant" on unions for funding they felt they had a "stranglehold" over the party and could "dictate terms".

And he backed tough action on strikes as they "rarely achieve their goal", he said.

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