Unions warn of walkout by more than million workers

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Unions are making final preparations for a huge strike by over a million council workers, teachers, civil servants and firefighters in bitter disputes with the Government over pay, pensions and spending cuts.

Ministers will be angrily attacked for their treatment of public sector workers during the industrial action on Thursday, which is set to be followed by further walkouts later in the year.

Health workers are being balloted for action over pay, threatening the biggest outbreak of strike action in a generation.

Unions expect the Government to criticise the low turnout in ballots which paved the way for Thursday’s walkout, amid expectation that the Conservatives will propose changes to balloting laws in next year’s general election manifesto.

Prime Minister David Cameron pledged earlier this year that he would back tougher laws, including a higher threshold of those voting to take industrial action before a strike could go ahead. Business leaders have been pressing for a new law setting a target of at least 50 per cent of those balloted having to vote in favour, an idea supported by the PM and other leading Conservatives.

Unions argue that if the same restriction was placed on parliamentary elections, no MPs would be elected.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said: “These strikes are based on ballots which are either with extremely low turnouts or, in some cases, with no recent ballot at all. The only teachers’ union calling a strike, the NUT, is relying on a mandate in a ballot that was called nearly two years ago. Taking action, which if it is effective is going to damage the interests of children and a load of hard-working parents who just want to be able to go to work that day... it is really very irresponsible.”

Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB union, said: “Not a single MP has secured 50 per cent of those eligible to vote in their constituency. There are no proposals for changes even though the outcome of that vote has a lot more significance than workers voting for action for a decent pay rise.”