LONDON (AFP) - More than one million public sector workers went on strike in Britain Thursday over pay and spending cuts by the government imposed as part of its austerity programme, trade unions said.
The strike, the biggest since Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government took power in 2010, involves a wide range of workers from teachers and civil servants to street sweepers and park attendants.
A string of protests is planned around Britain, including one in central London which will conclude with a rally in Trafalgar Square.
As part of a push to balance public finances, Cameron's centre right-led coalition government froze public sector salaries in 2010 for two years and has since limited pay rises to one percent a year.
Unions say this means that salaries cannot keep up with rising living costs and that "enough is enough".
"This is why today's strikers deserve public support," said the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O'Grady.
"They are saying that ordinary workers should not be locked out of the recovery, and that we should all get a fair share as the economy grows again."
Britain's economy emerged from recession in 2009 following a fierce downturn rooted in the global financial crisis and has since been gaining strength.
Despite the strikes, the government said it expected "the majority of hard-working public servants to turn up for work across the country".
It insists the strikes are not merited and says "pay restraint" was a necessary part of austerity measures imposed after the recession which followed the 2008 financial crisis.
"We went through a deep, deep recession, we had a huge budget deficit and we needed pay restraint," Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude told BBC radio.
"Public sector pay has increased by more than in the private sector since the recession... if we had raised pay more, there would have been more jobs lost.
Cameron has attacked the low turnout in the union ballots which led to the strikes and vowed to introduce legislation to ensure a minimum number of people take part in a ballot for it to be legal.
"How can it possibly be right for our children's education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in that way? It is time to legislate and it will be in the Conservative manifesto," he told the House of Commons Wednesday.