U.K. Unions Say They Can’t Rule Out Strike Action Over Pensions

U.K. unions said strike action is possible if talks with the government over public-sector pensions are unsuccessful as labor leaders met in London to coordinate their response to the government’s spending cuts.

“Public-service workers are not prepared to see their pensions hammered,” Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, told reporters after the talks today. “We’re not talking about political strikes, we know the limits the law imposes, but our unions will make sure they work closely together to provide an effective and united response.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government says it needs to cut pensions for public employees to tackle the budget deficit. A government-commissioned report said workers should accept retirement benefits based on average earnings rather than final salaries and contribute more from their wages.

Barber said that, following discussions with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, the government had agreed to talks on the future of public-sector pensions. Ministers had pledged not to “force through” changes in the March budget, he said.

“We hope that the talks can make progress, but we cannot rule out industrial action taking place on this issue,” Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, the largest public-sector union, told reporters after the meeting.

The TUC has called a mass demonstration in London on March 26, three days after the budget, and union leaders will meet every month to discuss tactics and coordinate action, Barber said.