LONDON Thousands of police officers are likely to be balloted later this week as to whether they want to have the right to strike, their union said Monday, as a bitter pay dispute with the government worsens.
More than 140,000 officers from across the country will be balloted on Wednesday over whether they should have the right to strike, the Police Federation said.
Despite police being banned from striking under laws introduced in the mid 1990s, the federation wants to explore the idea of officers being able to walk off the job.
The proposals stem from a row with the government, which officers claim has reneged on a pay rise agreed by an independent arbitrator.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, last week announced that officers would receive the 2.5 percent increased offer set by the independent Police Arbitration Tribunal.
But in a decision that has sparked wide-spread outrage, Smith said it would be paid in December, rather than backdated to September, which had been expected.
"I have a responsibility to ensure pay settlements are affordable and consistent with government pay policy, including the maintenance of low inflation," she said.
"I have therefore decided that the award should be implemented on December 1, rather than September 1."
Police claim this cuts the rise to 1.9 per cent, which is less than the rate of inflation, and will save the government an estimated 30 million pounds.
In a bid to get around the legal hurdle banning them from striking, media reports have said that many officers were contemplating other forms of wildcat action.
This could include specialist firearms officers refusing to carry weapons, leaving ministers without police protection, refusing to guard prisoners and organising sick days.
Federation chairwoman, Jan Berry, said in an interview with the BBC that the ballot would not ask officers to strike -- as that would be illegal.
"If we do ballot them then (it) will not be to go on strike because that will be unlawful," she said.
"But the ballot would see whether every police officer in this country wants us to renegotiate legislation that may give them that right, or may actually make arbitration binding on the government which currently it is not."
She said rank and file officers were furious, hurt and felt very let down by the government's plans.
"Police officers are very angry," she said.
"We have one group of workers who can do very little about it, yet we seem to be the one group of workers who are being made an exception of."
(Editing by Michael Holden)