Minister ‘hopeful’ as pension talks are resumed

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A Government Minister has said there is a “very realistic possibility” of reaching a deal on public sector pensions despite the huge strike by workers and threats of more industrial action.

Unions said Wednesday’s walkout was the biggest since the 1979 Winter of Discontent, maintaining that as many as two million workers – ranging from lollipop ladies and school cleaners to headteachers and nuclear physicists – had taken part.

The Government said the figure was wrong, with Prime Minister David Cameron telling the Commons the strike was a “damp squib”.

Police were called in provide support to London Ambulance Service, which faced “severe pressure” on Wednesday evening because of the dispute, with 42 per cent of its staff on strike.

Talks were due to be held yesterday between the Government and teaching unions, and with health unions today, as efforts continued to reach a deal and head off further industrial action.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said he believed there was a “good chance” of reaching agreement, adding that there was still a lot of detail to be discussed with the unions.

“There is a very realistic possibility of reaching agreement,” he said.

“The Government is committed to achieving an agreement, as are most trade union leaders. We are working as constructively as we can on that basis.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said she would approach the talks in a “positive” way and continue to work in good faith to find a negotiated settlement to the Government’s planned pension reforms.

“If we cannot make progress we may need to consider further strike and other action alongside our colleagues in other unions where appropriate,” she said.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “Ministers cannot dismiss the stand taken by these ordinary decent people, the majority of whom will probably have been on strike for the first time in their lives.

“Unions want to achieve a fair settlement, but it takes two to reach a deal.”