Pension plan sparks strike threats
The Government is facing the threat of a summer of industrial strife by millions of public sector workers after unions warned that radical changes to public sector pensions could "light the blue touch paper" for strikes.
Teachers could be the first group to stage walkouts, leaving England's schools facing mass disruption, although council workers, NHS staff, civil servants and other public sector employees could take coordinated action.
A crunch meeting will be held next week between union leaders and the Government to try to head off the threat of widespread industrial unrest amid warnings that strikes were "inevitable" if ministers implemented recommendations in a report by Labour peer Lord Hutton.
He recommended that public sector workers should be stripped of their final salary pensions and instead have schemes linked to average earnings, while paying more and working longer.
He also called for the normal age at which most public sector staff can start drawing their pension to be increased to be the same as the state pension age, while members of the armed forces, police and firefighters should not be able to retire before 60.
The report was savaged by unions, who said it was a "recipe for disaster" and accused the Government of planning a "Trojan horse raid" on the pensions of hard working public sector workers.
Lord Hutton argued that career average pensions would benefit lower paid workers and said his aim was to make the system fairer and more sustainable. Around 12 million public sector employees depended on pensions in retirement, but costs were increasing as people lived longer, he said.
He added it should be possible to introduce new career-average schemes by the end of this Parliament in 2015, although some groups, such as the armed forces and police, could have a longer transition period if needed.
Unions strongly disagreed, raising the threat of industrial action and warning that public sector employees such as midwives, could resign or stop paying into their pension scheme.
Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, said: "Asking workers to work longer for less is simply not an option. We want to talk to the Government about their response as a matter of urgency, but I am sending out a clear message to our 1.4 million members warning them that industrial action is now one big step closer."