18/01/2012 11:04 GMT | Updated 18/01/2012 12:15 GMT

Unison Leader Dave Prentis Accuses Ed Miliband Of 'Breathtaking Naivety' On Pay Freeze

Ed Miliband has been accused of "breathtaking naivety" and playing "cheap politics" by the Unison union leader Dave Prentis, after the Labour party said it wouldn't seek to reverse the current government pay freeze for public sector workers.

Prentis is the third union leader affiliated to the party to attack the Labour leader's position on public sector pay this week - and his criticism is by far the strongest.

Labour has come under sustained criticism from unions since the weekend, when Ed Balls gave a speech at the Fabian Society saying a Labour government would probably have to maintain the freeze on public sector workers if elected. Balls' position was supported by Ed Miliband in a BBC interview the following day.

In a message released on Wedesday afternoon, Prentis said: “Ed Miliband’s naivety is breathtaking and his ill-thought-through comments will have unintended consequences. At a time when hard working families are struggling to make ends meet, the very party which they look to to stand by them, has chosen instead to play cheap politics with their lives.”

“We were told by Ed Miliband to be patient, to prepare for the the long haul and that their economic plans needed to be cautious. And we hoped that, as the economy worsened, Labour’s voice would get louder, more forceful and that Ed Miliband would step up and speak out against the tearing apart of communities and families as they face insecurity and uncertainty.

“But at a time when our members needed him most, he panicked and fell into the trap, ditching overnight a policy that challenged the coalition."

Earlier this week Ed Miliband was attacked by the Unite union leader Len McLuskey, who said the shift of Labour policy amounted to "discredited Blairism" and called Labour frontbenchers the "horsemen of the austerity apocalypse". The policy was also criticised by the GMB union boss Paul Kenny.

However, Miliband was backed by a former minister, Alan Johnson, who branded the critical union bosses as "delusional".

It's too early to tell how this furious row between the Labour leadership and the unions who largely bankroll the party will play out with voters. At prime minister's questions on Wednesday, David Cameron accused the Labour leader of "flip-flopping" over cuts and public sector pay.

However Labour's poll ratings dropped significantly last November when Ed Miliband was accused of not going far enough in condemning the strikes that caused hundreds of schools to close and significant disruption to other public services.