UK Politics

Ed Miliband heckled at TUC over pension strike stance

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Media captionEd Miliband: "What we need now is meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation over this autumn''

Ed Miliband has been heckled by trade unionists angry over his decision not to back public sector strikes over pension reforms.

The Labour leader faced a rough ride from delegates at the TUC conference, where he delivered a keynote speech.

He told them he understood why they felt angry but said it was a "mistake" to strike while talks were going on.

Mr Miliband was also barracked as he praised the difference academies had made to education in his constituency.

In his speech, Mr Miliband stressed the strength of the link between Labour and the trade unions, which currently provide 80% of its funding.

But he also told the movement it had to change to become more relevant to the private sector and new industries - and warned that strikes should always be seen as a "last resort".

Hostile questions

In June, he refused to back strikes by four unions over the government's planned changes to public sector pensions.

To heckling from some in the audience at Congress House in London, he said: "I fully understand why millions of decent public sector workers feel angry.

"But while negotiations were going on, I do believe it was a mistake for strikes to happen. I continue to believe that.

"But what we need now is meaningful negotiation to prevent further confrontation over the autumn."

Some delegates shouted "shame" as the Labour leader continued, but he won applause when he criticised Chancellor George Osborne for reportedly wanting to end the 50p income tax rate for top earners.

In a question-and-answer session, Mr Miliband faced several hostile questions about his stance on the strike by 300,000 teachers and civil servants in June.

One delegate urged the Labour leader to "stand up on the side of hundreds of thousands of workers whose pensions are under attack".

Mr Miliband replied: "What I'm going to do is stand up and say the government needs to properly negotiate with you on these issues."

One of the union leaders who took industrial action in June, Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, claimed there "no real negotiations going on" with the government over pensions.

Mr Miliband was also urged to return academies and free schools to local authority control.

'Profit motive'

Struggling to make himself heard over catcalls from the audience, he said: "What you need is academies, free schools and other schools working together much better together."

He said the two academies in his Doncaster North constituency had "made a big difference" but stressed he did not want education to be "warped by the profit motive".

The government and unions are in talks over changes to public sector pensions, following a report by the former Labour cabinet minister Lord Hutton.

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Media captionMr Prentis described Mr Miliband's refusal to back strikes over pension changes as a "moment of doubt"

Ministers have said they will become unaffordable without reform as people are living longer - but the unions point to Lord Hutton's report which also says changes already made mean payments are predicted to fall as a percentage of GDP.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme that Mr Miliband's refusal to back the strikes while negotiations were continuing was "a little bit naive". He said the government had "not changed their plans one iota", despite months of talks.

Mr Prentis said much of the speech had been well received, but it was Mr Miliband repeating his opposition to the strikes over pensions "that caused the difficulty".

"There was no need to say it again today, he had already said it once."

The TUC conference is being held in London for the first time since 1902, after organisers said this would save money for the unions.

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