Government has come across as 'heavy handed' over public service strikes

The coalition Government has come across as 'heavy handed' and 'unreasonable' during its public spat with the trade unions over public service strikes, say public affairs experts.

Pension reform: two million workers expected to strike
Pension reform: two million workers expected to strike

The tactics have included an ultimatum from the Government that stated: ‘Unions have until the end of the year to accept the current offer or it will be taken off the table.'

The army has also been put on standby to take over border control and passport duties during Wednesday’s strikes over public service pensions.

Jo-ann Robertson, MD of public affairs and corporate comms at Ketchum Pleon, said: ‘The coalition has come across at times as heavy handed and unreasonable during their public spat with the trade unions.’

Robertson believes the lack of talks between both sides demonstrates that the ‘Government is not taking this issue seriously enough’.

She added: ‘The Government need to reposition its messaging from being about removing a workers' right to strike and the economic value of the public sector, to being about the trade union leaders' inability to negotiate professionally in the current economic climate.’

Fleishman-Hillard London head of public affairs and corporate comms Nick Williams believes the Government talk of army involvement serves to ‘demonstrate the escalation in the propaganda war’.

Williams said that the Government would need to keep to a single message and ensure that it was heard 'above all the pictures of disruption and picket lines that will dominate Wednesday's strike'.

This should ‘demonstrate empathy for individual workers, show a level of respect for the trade union movement, but be strong and relentless regarding the severity of the economic situation and the resulting need for reforms'.

The row over pension reform is expected to bring two million workers out on strike on Wednesday.

Over the weekend TUC general secretary Brendan Barber accused ministers of ‘deliberately misrepresenting the generosity of their proposals’. Barber revealed that civil servants will be worse off even if they worked to 67 years old and paid more into their pension schemes. TUC claims it made the calculations using the Government’s own pensions calculator, which went live on the official Civil Service website on Saturday.

A recent poll commissioned by BBC News found that 61% of people believe public sector workers are justified in going on strike.

However, Edelman director Dominic Pendry believes that the Government is keeping the public on side and ‘safeguarding a mandate for reform’.

He said: 'The coalition is helped greatly by the economic backdrop. It must be clear and consistent - we have already seen that the slightest discrepancy between the coalition parties will be leapt upon by the media and may offer union leaders the possibility of winning back the momentum in this fight.’

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