The government could change trade union laws to curb workers' ability to strike, a minister was quoted in the Daily Telegraph newspaper as saying on Saturday, days before the biggest walk-out in decades is due to take place.
Talks between public sector unions and the government over pension reform appear to have stalled and the strike on November 30 involving about two million state workers looks set to go ahead.
The newspaper said Cabinet minister Francis Maude, who has been involved in the talks, wanted the coalition to consult on a new legal timeframe on a strike vote mandate.
The paper said mandate rules allow a union to repeat strike action until the dispute ends as long as industrial action occurs within 28 days of securing an initial yes vote.
Maude was quoted as saying that this gave unions a perverse incentive to strike. The coalition will look at extending the timeframe to about three months to give more time for a dispute to be resolved before a walk-out is necessary, the paper said without quoting Maude directly.
To hold more strikes after that limit, a union would have to hold a new ballot of members.
There is a case for change, he was quoted as saying. We'll want to look at this carefully.
The Conservatives have also looked at changing turnout rules, putting in place a minimum threshold for a strike.
It is clearly an option, he said.
If very disruptive strike action is carried out on the basis of these weak ballots, weak turnouts, the case for reform gets stronger.
The government, which wants public sector workers to contribute more, retire later and receive pensions based on average earnings rather than final salaries, made a revised offer at the beginning of the month.
It was not accepted by the unions.
The government says public sector pension reform is necessary because people are living longer.
We need to move quickly, Maude was quoted as saying.
We have to legislate to put in place the new schemes. We will legislate whether we have a deal or not.
(Reporting by Avril Ormsby; editing by Elizabeth Piper)