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Unions prepare mass strike ballots

Ballot papers are being prepared for millions of public sector workers who are set to launch a series of strikes, starting with a day of action on November 30, in a bitter row over pensions.

More than 20 unions representing up to three million workers ranging from firefighters and school dinner ladies, to social workers and driving test examiners, are on a collision course with the Government.

Unison fired the starting gun by announcing plans to ballot its 1.1 million public service workers in the next few weeks, and will be joined by the country's biggest unions.

The two sides are now deeply entrenched in a deadlocked row over plans to increase pension contributions for millions of public sector workers.

Chancellor George Osborne said union bosses were behaving in a "deeply irresponsible" way and urged them to get back to the negotiating table. But union leaders said talks which have been held over the past eight months were a "farce" and accused ministers of refusing to change their deeply unpopular proposals.

The day of action, 24 hours after the Chancellor makes his autumn statement on the economy, will include stoppages, meetings, rallies and joint events with community groups, and will herald months of industrial unrest in a major challenge to the Government.

Unison leader Dave Prentis said of November 30: "This will be a day of industrial action but also a day to draw communities together, in opposition to the Government's cuts. This is not about public versus private, but about fairness and preventing poverty in old age.

"We have reached the 11th hour it is time the Government entered into serious negotiations. After eight months of talks they have failed to move closer to an agreement. I have always said that I want to reach a deal, and we are willing to negotiate any time, anywhere - but now is the time to take a stand."

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who is leading the talks for the Government, said: "Despite (Wednesday's) statement by the TUC, the Government remains committed to these talks and to keeping public service pensions among the very best available. However, it also recognises the need to address rising costs due to increased longevity."

Despite the strike moves, talks will be held next week between the two sides.

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