Firefighters join strike by 1m public sector staff: Walkouts on 10 July to hit schools and town halls Unions want pay restraint eased as recovery begins

Guardian (UK) |

The government is facing the largest one-day strike over pay by public sector workers since 2010 after firefighters announced they would join walkouts planned for 10 July by up to a million local government workers, civil servants, teachers, passport staff and health workers. The Fire Brigades Union became the latest to test the new militant mood when it announced yesterday it is joining strike action in a bid to end to pay freezes now that the recovery is under way. Ministers introduced a public sector pay freeze in 2010, and in 2012 brought in a pay cap of 1\%, which is still in place. The FBU has been locked in a long-running row with the government over plans to change pensions and the retirement age of firefighters. The dispute has led to sporadic strikes, as well as union court action to defend the value of the firefighter's pension. The 10 July walkout, lasting from 10am to 7pm, will be the 15th since the FBU campaign began. The union is expected to announce further action later this week. Across the country, schools - particularly primaries in urban areas - will close, and some passport services and local government work will be restricted. Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, said: "We are proud to take strike action alongside our colleagues in other unions on 10 July. The fact that this government has united so many workers to take strike action against them is a testament to the failure of their policies. They are destroying our public services and wrecking the lives of millions." The strikes are bound to increase pre-election calls in the Conservative party for a minimum turnout threshold before any strike ballot can be deemed lawful, and so protected from civil damages claims. Labour will also be put under pressure to say if it supports the strikes, including by some of its biggest donors, So far it has said it understands the need for a pay freeze, but only if it is implemented fairly. Speaking to the Unite conference in Liverpool, Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said public sector workers were angry that they were being locked out of the recovery. She said: "Whether they work in town halls, hospitals or central government departments, public servants everywhere are facing a huge squeeze on their incomes. Pay restraint was a bitter pill to swallow during the dark days of recession, but now the economy looks to be back on its feet, public sector workers are understandably angry. The government managed to find the cash to give the wealthy a nice tax cut, yet professes not to have the means to give hard-working public servants the pay rise they deserve." Local government minister Brandon Lewis said: "The government believes a solution can be reached, but not under the shadow of industrial action, which only serves to damage firefighters' good standing with the public. By calling more strikes during an open consultation the FBU leadership has once again shown it is not serious about finding a resolution." He claimed nearly three quarters will see no change in their pension age in 2015. Under the new scheme, a firefighter who earns pounds 29,000 would be able to retire aged 60 and get a pounds 19,000-a-year pension. CBI criticises pay freeze, page 26 ≥ Martin Kettle, page 28 ≥ Tom Clark, page 30 ≥

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