British unions attack austerity, threaten pre-election strikes

British trade unions have lashed out at government austerity, threatened disruptive public sector strikes in the run-up to the May general election and blasted lawmakers' "hypocrisy" over pay.

Liverpool: British trade unions have lashed out at government austerity, threatened disruptive public sector strikes in the run-up to the May general election and blasted lawmakers' "hypocrisy" over pay.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the umbrella group for unions representing around 6.2 million British workers, kicked off its annual four-day meeting in Liverpool, northwest England, with pointed attacks on the policies of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in power. The theme of this year's conference is "Britain Needs A Pay Rise", as the TUC argues that workers - particularly in the public sector - have failed to benefit from the nation's solid economic recovery.

"Ordinary people need a fair share of the proceeds of the recovery," TUC secretary-general Frances O'Grady told AFP yesterday. Britain's economy has staged a bumpy recovery since exiting a fierce recession in 2009 that was rooted in the global financial crisis.

Gross domestic product grew 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014, matching output in the first three months. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government which took office in 2010 cut public spending in efforts focused on slashing the deficit and bolstering business confidence.

But O'Grady added: "Real wages are continuing to fall, not helped by the government's real cuts in the public sector, but real wages are falling in the private sector, too. "And clearly ordinary people are not sharing in the benefits of economic growth."

Health unions are meanwhile balloting hundreds of thousands of workers over strike action that could be held on October 13. That is one day before a separate 24-hour strike of local government workers in England and Wales.

"We are moving to industrial action over everything that has happened within our public services," said Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, Britain's biggest public sector trade union.

"And we will take action not just in October, but unless employers reach agreement, we will take action through the winter and into the spring of next year," he told a press conference.