LONDON (Reuters) - The government plans further talks with trades unions on pensions reform after the two sides met on Wednesday for the first time since a walkout last week by some 300,000 teachers and civil servants.
“We have had another constructive meeting today as part of the ongoing talks the government has committed to with the TUC (Trades Union Congress) on public service pensions,” a Treasury spokeswoman said.
“This is a genuine consultation and further meetings will take place,” she added.
Unions representing public sector workers have threatened further strikes later in the year over plans to make them pay more for less generous pensions and retire later.
The current talks are designed to set the framework for specific negotiations for state-employed workers such as nurses and teachers who have their own individual industry schemes.
Last week’s strikes show union patience is limited.
Around half of the schools in England and Wales closed when teachers protested on the streets over plans to make them pay more for their pensions and work longer.
The Conservative-led coalition says that pensions need to be overhauled to ensure the system can cope as people live longer. The reforms are part of government plans to effectively erase by 2015 a budget deficit that peaked at more than 10 percent of GDP.
The government condemned the strikes last week by four unions as premature while talks were still going on.
Protests over austerity have been relatively muted in Britain compared with other European nations, but unions have vowed to take a stand over pension reforms. Public sector workers already face a pay freeze and the loss of more than 300,000 jobs.
The stakes are high on both sides.
Prime Minister David Cameron wants to avoid giving too much ground after recent policy reversals on reform of the state-funded health system and plans to cut sentences for offenders who enter early guilty pleas.
Union membership has dwindled since the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher took on miners and print workers in the 1980s.
However, union membership remains strong among Britain’s 6.2 million public sector workers and the struggle over pensions is a test of their effectiveness.
Editing by Louise Ireland