09/05/2012 14:18 BST | Updated 09/05/2012 17:49 BST

Public Sector Strikes: Queen's Speech Prompts Nationwide Demonstrations Against Austerity Measures

Tens of thousands of workers, ranging from police officers to immigration staff, are to stage protests on Thursday, protesting against government changes to public sector pensions, pay and jobs.

Union leaders predict that up to 400,000 workers will be involved in a wave of demonstrations, fuelled by ministers making it clear in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday that they are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms.

Civil servants, lecturers, health workers, Ministry of Defence staff, immigration officers, off-duty police officers and members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will be among those joining strikes and other forms of protest across the UK.

Up to 16,000 off-duty police officers will wear black caps as they take to the streets of London representing each officer expected to be lost under the government's budget cuts as they take to the streets.

The officers are banned from striking under law, however off duty officers will march through central London in a protest against proposed changes to their pay and conditions.

Some 20,000 officers from all 43 forces across England and Wales are expected to take part in the first police march in the capital for more than four years, organisers said.

The walkout follows one-and-a-half million workers causing a huge blockage on British streets in November protest at the planned changes to their pensions.

Most public sector unions remain opposed to the reforms which they warned would leave millions of workers having to pay more into their pensions, retire later and receive less when they finally stop work.

The Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said that the sea of black caps will show the number of officers the public will lose over four years as a result of the cuts.

Unite's assistant general secretary, Gail Cartmail, said that the industrial action will "build on the high level of anger that was on display during the 30 November strikes."

"This anger has been increased by the government's hardline insistence that public sector employees work longer, pay more and receive less when they eventually retire.

"Our members believe that the government is attacking their pensions as a means of helping reduce the budget deficit, which has been caused by a greedy City elite, that has brought the economy to its knees. This is blatantly unfair.

"George Osborne's austerity plans are beginning to sicken everyone. A work-until-you-drop culture in this country is not because people want teachers, nurses, firemen struggling at work into their 70s."

The pensions dispute has been raging for over 18 months, with warnings of further strikes in June and throughout the summer.

Bob Crow, leader of the rail Maritime and Transport union, whose members at the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will be on strike on Thursday said:

"We will be sending the clearest message to the government that we will defend our pensions to the hilt and the demand that our members should work longer, pay more and get less will be thrown back in the faces of this government of millionaire public schoolboys.

"It's the bankers and the bosses who have gambled with our country's future and the men and women who provide the lifeline services to the Royal Navy fleet should not have to tolerate a worse pension and be forced to work longer to make up for their mistakes

Ministers insist the current level of public sector pensions is unsustainable and that reforms are needed, saying workers will still receive decent payments on retirement.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said: "The coalition has reduced tax for super-earners while making cuts to vital public services like job centres, borders and tax collection.

"Public sector workers have seen thousands of their colleagues sacked, their pay has been frozen for two years and they are being told they must pay much more and work for up to eight years longer for smaller pensions.

"That's why hundreds of thousands of workers will be striking on Thursday in opposition to the Government's prescription of austerity and misery that has plunged the UK back into recession."

Jobcentres, airports, tax offices, colleges, driving test centres, museums and military sites will all be hit by this week's strike.

Picket lines will be mounted outside Government buildings, Parliament, museums and galleries, while rallies will be held across the country including in London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said: "It is very disappointing that a minority of union insist on carrying on with a futile and disruptive strike action which will benefit no one. We would urge union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and members are risking losing a day's pay for nothing.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "This strike is completely unnecessary and we believe the public will find it unacceptable if unions push ahead.

"The security of the UK border is of the utmost importance and we will use contingency plans to ensure we minimise any disruption caused by planned union action. We are preparing to use our trained pool of backroom staff and MoD police to boost staffing levels at ports and airports around the UK."

FDA members in senior grades of the civil service have voted by almost 3-1 to accept the deal negotiated with the government for new pension arrangements from 2015, the union announced.

Deputy general secretary Dave Penman, said: "This result should not be interpreted as an endorsement by FDA members of the new scheme. FDA members remain deeply unhappy about aspects of the changes and the government's approach to pension reform.

The imposition of increases to pension contributions, and the government's unilateral decision to devalue pensions in payment by switching the uprating index from RPI inflation to CPI, has generated both anger and resentment."

Dr Alan Robertson, chair of the Bitish Medical Association's pension committee, said: "The BMA is gravely concerned that ministers are still intent on pushing ahead with their unnecessary and unfair changes to the NHS pension scheme.

"Doctors and other NHS staff agreed substantial changes to their pension scheme in 2008 to make it sustainable for the future. This included an acceptance of increases in contributions and a rise in the normal pension age.

"Staff also agreed to take on responsibility for further increases needed to cover cost increases, such as those created by people living longer.

"The government now wants to scrap this agreement, even though the scheme currently delivers £2 billion to the Treasury each year.

"There is real anger amongst hard-working doctors about the way they have been treated. The government must think again and reopen negotiations with the BMA so we can find a fair solution."