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Unions accuse government of harming pension talks
LONDON (Reuters) - Unions accused the government on Thursday of undermining talks on public sector pension reform and warned widespread action was likely after it announced plans to increase many workers' contributions.
Ministers and union chiefs are currently negotiating plans to reform pensions -- a move the government says is essential because people are living longer.
The proposals, which the Treasury said would deliver 1 billion pounds of savings in 2012-2013, would see contributions of those earning under 15,000 pounds a year remain the same, while higher earners would pay up to 2.4 percent more.
The changes are also part of the coalition's aim to erase over four years a budget deficit running at around 10 percent of national output.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union which staged a walkout in June, said the proposals "made a mockery" of the ongoing talks.
"These highly detailed proposals show that the government has made its mind up and is not negotiating seriously," he said.
"Already more trade unions have indicated they will take part in further strike action and today's announcement will only increase that resolve."
Under the proposals, a teacher earning 35,000 pounds a year would pay 420 pounds more, while a worker on 100,000 pounds a year would contribute an extra 2,000 pounds.
A nurse on 25,000 pounds a year would contribute an extra 10 pounds a month after tax, with a hospital consultant earning 130,000 pounds paying 152 pounds a month more.
The issue has angered unions and Britain's 6 million public sector workers who argue the plans, which they say come amid widespread job losses and a pay freeze, would lead to them working longer and paying more to get a smaller pension.
About 300,000 teachers and civil servants went on strike in June in what was expected to the start of wider industrial action.
Protests over the government's austerity plans have been relatively muted in Britain compared with other European nations, but unions have vowed to take a stand over pension reforms and have warned of months of unrest later this year.
Britain's biggest public sector union, Unison, said Thursday's announcement was unexpected, as there had been talks with government officials earlier this week which it said had been making slow progress.
"These talks are being put in jeopardy by the crude and naive tactics of government ministers who don't seem to understand the word negotiate," said Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, which represents 1.4 million workers.
"If it is set in stone, then there is no point in having a single further meeting," said Prentis, who has threatened to stage the biggest wave of strikes in nearly 100 years.
Treasury Minister Danny Alexander said the proposals were part of plans to ensure pensions were sustainable and that they were still generous in comparison to those in the private sector.
"I have much hope there won't be industrial action and unions will continue to engage in these discussions in good faith," he told the BBC. ($1 = 0.612 British Pounds)
(Editing by Karolina Tagaris)
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