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UK's biggest strike in years to go ahead after talks fail

world Updated: Jun 28, 2011 19:23 IST

A national strike by up to 750,000 public sector workers and teachers is set to go ahead after the British government failed to reach a settlement with union leaders over pension reforms.

Despite appearing to offer a significant compromise, ministers were left fundamentally divided on major unresolved gaps with unions, according to Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress.

"In some areas it's clear that there is a possibility of agreement, but in terms of some of the key issues there is clearly a major gap between our position and that of the government," Barber said.

"The strikes will be taking place on Thursday. Four unions balloted their members and reached that decision and that reflects the degree of anger and worry and real fear there is across everyone who works for public sectors that their pensions are under threat," he said.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Teachers, the University and College Union and PCS, the civil service union, all confirmed they would go ahead with the planned national walk.

Thousands of school and college students are also expected to join teachers and civil servants in the strike action by staging a new wave of occupations and demonstrations as part of a wider campaign against the government's austerity measures.

In a joint statement, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander described the talks as constructive and indicated that it was preparing to offer concessions on the local government pension scheme, covering 3.5 million mostly low-paid members.

"What the recent ballot results show is that there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action union leaders are calling for," the joint statement also insisted.

The strike action is the largest in the UK for several years and is expected to bring schools, colleges, universities, courts, ports and job centres to a standstill after overwhelming votes for industrial action.