For a strike, not a tea-break

PUBLIC sector unions last week scorned the suggestion from Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude that workers could, on 30th November, take part in a token 15-minute “strike” to show their anger at the robbery of their pensions, without losing any pay — but they would have to call off their one-day national strike.

The idea is ridiculous; the purpose of a strike is to put real pressure on the Government to back off from these pension cuts and a 15-minute down-tools is no pressure at all and would accomplish nothing.

But the momentum for the one-day strike is steadily building, with more union ballots coming through showing overwhelming support. This could be Britain’s biggest ever strike with some three million workers taking part — and a prospect of further strike if the Government does not back down. That is real pressure and it has the Con-Dem Coalition worried.

GMB national officer Brian Strutton, who has been negotiating with Government ministers for months derided the 15-minute strike idea: “Maude’s proposal for a 15-minute strike is a daft idea. We are asking members to vote for a strike not a tea break.

“What he says is unlawful anyway which is surprising coming from a minister. He should focus more on the negotiations which are at a critical stage.” Union leaders also see the 15-minutes strike concept as purely a propaganda ploy, playing to the media. Maude announced it the press with no prior consultation with either unions or public sector employers.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “If Francis Maude had genuinely wanted this idea to be taken seriously I would have expected him to have raised it directly with the TUC and unions rather than play it as a PR gambit in a press interview.

“The way to resolve this dispute and avoid industrial action is to make real progress and acceptable offers in the negotiations. Francis Maude seems to want to divert attention away from the Government’s failure to make proper offers in scheme negotiations.”

Meanwhile Prime Minister Cameron’s predictions that private sector employers would provide jobs to take up the public sector workers now being made redundant was blown out of the water last week be a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) saying that the jobs market will continue to worsen in the medium term amid global economic turmoil.

Its quarterly survey of 1,000 employers found firms’ future hiring plans dwarfed by likely public sector losses. It found employers adopting a “wait and see” policy towards the economy.

CIPD public policy adviser Gerwyn Davies said: “The good news resulting from this lull in business activity is that fewer employers are looking to relocate abroad or make redundancies.

“The downside is that recruitment intentions are falling, which will make further rises in unemployment therefore seem inevitable given that public sector job losses are outpacing the predictions made by the Office for Budget Responsibility. There is no immediate sign of UK labour market conditions improving in the short or medium term.”