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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Unions rubbish ministerial claims of £500m strike cost

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Unions have dismissed ministerial claims that next week’s national day of action will cost the UK economy up to £500 million and lead to public sector job losses as “fantasy economics”.

The Treasury arrived at its figure by totting up the potential impact on public sector output as well as the knock-on effect on the private sector, which includes closing schools and parents having to take days off work.
 
Cabinet Secretary Francis Maude also pointed to a correlation between economic output and job losses, although he was unable to provide exact figures. He told the Guardian: “Exactly what that relationship is, is very hard to anticipate, but if we lose a big chunk of output, it is hard to see how that does not translate into fewer jobs.”
 
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander admitted, however, that economic losses of £500m were a "reasonably worst case scenario", which could occur if all members of striking unions did not turn up to work. 
 
He described industrial action to the BBC as a "self-inflicted wound to the British economy", adding that there was "no more money on the table" to settle the pensions dispute and the government had made a "very good offer". 
 
With as many as two millions workers expected to go on strike next Wednesday (November 30), a spokesman told the BBC that there was "no question," that a walk-out would hit the country’s fragile economic recovery.
 
Desperate excuse
 
But the unions struck back, attesting that the Coalition Government was seeking to “scapegoat” public sector workers for poor economic growth. Brendan Barber, general secretary of umbrella organisation, the TUC, said while industrial action would obviously cause disruption, the figures put forward by ministers were simply “fantasy economics”.
 
“This is the clearest sign yet that next week’s Autumn Statement will be a damp squib and the Government is using the strike as yet another desperate excuse,” he said. “Blaming the weather, the Royal Wedding and now scapegoating hard-working teachers, nurses and dinner ladies for the UK’s economic woes is pretty poor form a Government that has presided over record unemployment and the weakest economic recovery for a century.”
 
The unions are adamant pension changes will have a severe impact on their members and that current Government proposals are not enough.
 
Contingency planning is now underway to try and deal with the effects of the walk-out. For example, the Home Office this week asked selected groups of civil servants to cross picket lines and work as border control officers to check passports as airports and ports during the strike.
 
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union described the move as an act of “blind panic” and criticised ministers for failing to plan despite having had months of warnings about the proposed strike.
 
 
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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