Public sector strike: Balls urges two sides to give ground

Media caption,
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls: "The government has got to give some ground, so have the unions"

Unions and the government should "give ground" to avert Wednesday's "hugely disruptive" public sector strike, shadow chancellor Ed Balls has said.

He told the BBC's Andrew Marr show "there has to be a deal, it takes both sides to sort this out".

The strike over pensions could involve up to two million people, including teachers and border control staff.

Chancellor George Osborne said the current offer was a "good deal", but unions say the proposals are unfair.

Mr Balls said: "I would urge the government to get round the table, give some ground and sort this out, it is terrible we are going to have a strike on Wednesday.

"I don't think anybody wants it, it will be hugely disruptive for families and businesses."

But he said he also had sympathy for low paid workers whose contributions were going up while their pensions were cut.

'Additional tax'

"The government has got to give some ground, so have the unions," he said.

"There has to be a deal, it takes both sides to sort this out. I would urge the union leaders to say we'll give ground and we'll talk."

Media caption,
Chancellor George Osborne: 'What's on offer is a good deal'

Unions say proposals which require their members to work longer before collecting their pension and contribute more are unfair.

But the government says change is needed to keep down the cost to the taxpayer, because people are living longer.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said most workers accepted that point.

But he added: "The 3% increase in contributions that the government are seeking to force through, that's not to do with long-term affordability or sustainability.

"That's to contribute to the short-term deficit-reduction targets of the next three or four years, and you shouldn't force through changes of that sort on short-term issues like the deficit.

"And that... just feels to public sector workers like, in effect, a tax - an additional tax."

Asked by BBC One's The Politics Show whether there was anything Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude could do to persuade unions to call the strike off, he said it was "probably unlikely".

Mr Osborne told the Andrew Marr show: "I'm trying to give them a good decent pension for many, many years to come - much better than you could get if you were in the private sector these days."

He added: "They will get in many cases a bigger pension than they've had before.

"Yes, they'll have to retire later or pay more contributions, but we're all having to do that because our society is older and our country is in more debt."

On Saturday, the leader of one of Britain's biggest unions hit back at government warnings over the planned strike.

Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander had said recent improvements to the government's offer could be withdrawn if the strike went ahead.

Unison leader Dave Prentis said there had been no formal improved offer, although government sources rejected this.

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