LONDON (Reuters) - The leader of Britain’s biggest union has warned that coordinated strikes by workers in the public sector was “on the cards” in protest at the government’s pay cap.
Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of the Unite union which has more than 1.4 million members, also told BBC radio that he would be prepared to break tough new laws on industrial action.
“In terms of the concept of a coordinated public service workers’ action, yes I think that’s very likely and very much on the cards,” McCluskey, one of Britain’s most militant union leaders said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday.
Public-sector pay was frozen for all but the lowest earners in 2010 and increases were limited to of 1 percent a year from 2013 as part of measures to reduce government spending.
However Prime Minister Theresa May has come under increasing pressure from opponents and some senior figures in her own party to ditch the cap in the wake of June’s snap election when she lost her parliamentary majority.
There has been speculation in the media that the government will agree to award police and prison officers increases above 1 percent this week based on recommendations from independent review bodies.
However, with other public sector workers having to wait longer for any increases, unions currently meeting this week for their annual congress have warned industrial action could follow as a “last resort”.
“I‘m very clear that people are angry and if we don’t get that pay rise then the TUC (Trades Union Congress) is certainly ready to assist our unions and coordinate as we always do,” Frances O‘Grady, general secretary of the TUC, the union umbrella group.
In 2011, hundreds of thousands of workers including teachers and civil servants went on strike over changes to pensions in what was the biggest walkout seen in Britain for a generation, although the said the impact was limited.
Last year, Britain passed tough laws which require a ballot turnout of more than 50 percent of union members for a strike to be legal, with even tighter restrictions for important public services such as health, transport, border security and fire sectors.
McCluskey said his union was prepared to take action even if they failed to reach the new legal requirement.
“If they haven’t managed to hit an artificial threshold that this government have foolishly put onto the statute books then I will stand by our members, and we’ll all live, including the government, ... with the consequences of that,” he told the BBC.
Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge