A union leader dismissed as a media stunt on Saturday the British government's suggestion that public sector unions stage a token 15-minute stoppage later this month instead of a planned national strike over pension reform.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in an interview with Saturday's Financial Times that public sector workers would not lose a day's pay if they limited planned industrial action on November 30 to a quarter of an hour.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, the main union federation, said Maude's offer was a public relations gambit.
Ministers had better make their mind up whether they intend to negotiate genuinely in good faith or through the megaphone of media stunts, he said in a statement.
The way to resolve this dispute and avoid industrial action is to make real progress and acceptable offers in the negotiations, he said.
Unions are locked in battle with the Conservative-led coalition over government plans to implement cost-cutting reforms to pensions at a time when ministers are cutting hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs and freezing pay.
Britain's biggest public sector union Unison, one of more than a dozen unions in the dispute, voted last week in favour of a 24-hour strike at the end of November. The government has criticised the low turnout in the vote -- 29 percent.
Smaller unions are expected to join action which could involve up to two million workers.
Gerard Coyne, West Midlands regional secretary of the Unite union, representing 1.5 million public sector workers, said Maude's suggestion was ludicrous.
What we need now is for meaningful negotiations to take place and for the minister to understand the anger that our members feel about the changes that are being proposed, Coyne told Sky News.
The coalition government, which has criticised the move to strike while negotiations are still ongoing, offered a revised pension deal to workers last week but failed to persuade unions to call off the threat of industrial action.
The coalition's cost-saving plans include making public sector workers pay more into their pensions and work for longer. Ministers have offered to protect staff currently close to retirement and not to seek further reform for 25 years.
Maude, one of the government's main negotiators with unions on pension reform, told the BBC on Saturday he was suggesting a 15-minute strike because when a union got a mandate for strike action, it was legally obliged to go on strike within 28 days.
I am trying to help them out of this ridiculous position they have got themselves into where they've jumped the gun and gone to ballot before the time was remotely appropriate, he said.
Maude also warned union leaders that industrial action could lead to tighter strike laws.
If they actually call a strike based on a ballot where only just more than a quarter of those balloted actually bothered to vote at all, then the pressure to change the law to set some kind of turnout threshold will really become very, very hard to resist, Maude said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Falloon; Editing by Andrew Heavens)