Miliband urges talks over pensions

Save our pensionsUnions have hailed a "welcome shift" in Labour's position on public sector strikes as plans for a series of industrial action ballots were stepped up.

Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman said the party will back public sector strikes if the Government remains "unreasonable" in talks with trade unions over efforts to secure agreement over pension reforms, while Ed Miliband urged the Government to engage in "serious" negotiations.
The Labour leader refused to say whether he would support industrial action but insisted the Government should get around the table with union barons to avoid a conflict.

He urged ministers not to act as if they were "spoiling for a fight" with the unions amid anger over proposed changes to public sector pensions.
Mr Miliband, who spoke out against a strike by teachers and civil servants in June, would not be drawn on if he would support a fresh wave of action, telling BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "I'm not interested in ifs."

But he added: "Strikes are a sign of failure, we've got to avoid them and there is a big responsibility on Government to stop them happening."

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB, one of several unions planning to ballot workers for strikes later this year, said the Government is attacking the retirement incomes and pension rights of millions of workers over its controversial plans to increase contributions by 3.2%.

"Frankly, if the Labour Party cannot stand up and support people defending themselves and their families, then what does it stand for?"

Responding to Mr Miliband's interview, he said: "Even belatedly, it is a welcome shift and shows where Ed Miliband stands in protecting people from bullies, whether they are in the boardroom or in government."

Meanwhile, Unison said that letters of intent had been sent to employers, including those in Scotland, ahead of a ballot of the union's 1,1 million public sector members for strikes.

© 2011 Press Association
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