As unions deny claims that next week’s public sector pensions strike will cost £500m, Labour leader Ed Miliband blames Prime Minister David Cameron for industrial action that “needs to be avoided”.
The government said the walkout could cost the economy half a billion pounds and has warned unions there is “no more money on the table” to settle the row.
Labour leader Ed Miliband told Channel 4 News that both sides needed to “get round the table” to make sure that the strike is avoided.
But he added that concessions will be needed on both sides: “On the union side, they need to accept that there will be a change in public sector pensions.
“On the government side, though, instead of declaring an end to negotiations, ramping up the rhetoric, what the government needs to do is negotiate in good faith, in particular on this crucial issue of the 3 per cent tax rise, that they are imposing on some of the lowest paid public sector workers.”
Speaking earlier on Thursday, during a visit to Toyota in Burnaston, Derbyshire, the prime minister said: “The offer we have made is a generous offer.
“The factory I’m standing in here in Derbyshire, the employees working behind me here, they don’t have access to anything like the pensions that people get in the public sector and they are paying taxes towards those pensions and they are going to suffer.”
Britain is braced for a day of disruption on Wednesday, when hundreds of thousands of public sector workers plan to take strike action.
Downing Street claims to have contingency plans but, as Channel 4 News has learnt, some roles are easier to cover than others.
Police and firefighters will not be affected by Wednesday’s strike but many paramedics and ambulance support staff are taking part.
In the case of emergency services, unions are committed to protecting the public from “life and limb injury”.
As a result, some members are exempt from taking action to maintain an essential “bank holiday” level service.
But Channel 4 News has learnt that there is ongoing disagreement between unions and some ambulance trusts negotiating the level of cover to be provided – one trust has asked all its staff be exempt from the walkout.
The GMB’s National Secretary Brian Strutton said that is not an option: “In that case you just need to start negotiations again. We’re going on strike but we’re doing it responsibly.”
Talks will continue over coming days in a bid to confirm the level of ambulance cover to be provided on Wednesday.
It has emerged that civil servants from across Whitehall and staff in embassies overseas are being drafted in to cover striking border staff.
A UK Border Agency spokesman said: “The security of the UK border remains our top priority and we explore all options to ensure we minimise any disruption caused by planned union action.”
The spokesman stressed that all staff would be given “the necessary level of training” needed for the tasks they were given.
But National Officer for the PCS Union, Paul O’Connor, told Channel 4 News it is a “ludicrous” prospect.
He said border staff receive 19 weeks training to prepare for their roles in immigration and customs.
“Passport control and identification of forged documents is highly skilled.
“People need to know exactly what they’re looking for and have experience in watching people who may be acting suspiciously.
“There are nine different checks in total performed at the border – people think you wave your passport and you’re through but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
Teachers across the UK have voted to go on strike on Wednesday. Support staff and teaching assistants will also walkout in the row about pensions.
Many council-run schools will be forced to close because of strict rules about the qualifications and criminal record checks required by people to teach.
But academies and free schools have more relaxed rules.
The Ormiston Victory Academy in Costessey, Norwich, hopes to bring in former soldiers to run classes as part of a bid to provide an insight into different walks of life.
Headteacher Rachel de Souza said: “It’s about not disrupting children’s education and supporting our working parents.
“Everyone is suffering at the moment because of the economic situation and we don’t want to make things harder for anyone.”