British state workers to strike after talks fail

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Union leaders said Monday a planned strike by British public sector workers will go ahead on Thursday as there was "a major gap" between the government and unions over proposed pension reforms.

Speaking after talks with the government, Trade Union Congress (TUC) chief Brendan Barber maintained there was "the possibility of agreement" on some points, but fundamental differences remained.

"In some areas it's clear that there is the possibility of agreement but in terms of some of the key issues there is clearly a major gap between our position and that of the government," Barber said.

"Four unions balloted their members and reached that decision, and that reflects the degree of anger and worry and real fear there is across everyone who works for public sectors that their pensions are under threat," he added.

Up to 750,000 teachers and civil servants will take part in the biggest industrial action since the coalition government came to power in May 2010.

Mark Serwotka, head of the civil servants' Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, said "not one jot of progress" had been made with the government, which wants public sector workers to pay more into pension schemes and retire later.

Unions are also angered by proposals to inflate pension payouts according to the usually lower consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI).

PCS members will be joined by workers from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the University and College Union in Thursday's strike.

Thousands of schools are expected to be hit by the action.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude argued that the talks had been "constructive".

"This is a genuine consultation to which we are committed in order to try and agree a way forward with the unions, including on how to implement the changes on contributions set out in the spending review," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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