Socialist Worker

Tories ignore unions to launch pension attack

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2262

The Tories have shown their contempt for negotiations over pensions—and pressure is building on the unions to join strikes this autumn in response.

The government has announced pension cuts that would see it steal over £1 billion from workers next year.

Of these, around £530 million will come from the NHS pension scheme, around £300 million from the teachers' scheme and around £180 million from the civil service scheme.

Some 1.5 million teachers, civil servants and nurses will have to pay an average of £10 a month more for their pension. Many will have to pay far more.

The government’s own examples shows the scale of the attacks on two civil service pension schemes.

The first example, Jane, earns £25,000 a year. “Jane's contributions currently cost her £25 per month after tax,” it says. “Jane's contributions will cost her £20 per month more.” That’s a total of £45.

Hayley, who is in a different scheme, earns £16,000 a year. “Hayley's contributions currently cost her just over £37 per month after tax. Hayley's contributions will cost her just under an additional £7 per month.' A total of £44.

In the NHS, a full-time nurse earning £25,700 will face a similar rise to the first example—an additional £20 a month.

Despite what the government claims, though, public sector pensions are far from gold plated. Over 90 percent are less than £17,000. In the health service, the average is £7,500—and only £3,000 for women.

Those on less than £15,000 won't pay more, the government claims. But the attack comes on top of a pay freeze while prices continue to soar—meaning a pay cut in real terms.

And a change to make pensions increase at the lower CPI rate of inflation is talking money from all workers.

Union leaders said the moves were a tax on pensions.

Mark Serwotka, head of the PCS civil service union, said it was time to 'build for more industrial action'.

He said, 'The government figures confirm what we have said all along. People are going to have to pay more and work for longer, in return for smaller pensions.

'These highly detailed proposals show that the government has made its mind up and is not negotiating seriously.

“Already more trade unions have indicated they will take part in further strike action. This announcement will only increase that resolve.'

On 30 June, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers, including teachers, lecturers and civil service workers, struck against the pension attacks.

There is momentum building for further action. For instance, firefighters are set to join the battle. Their FBU union said a national firefighters' strike over the plans 'looks increasingly likely in the autumn'.

They are furious that their already-high 11 percent contributions are set to rise to 14 percent. This alone will cost most firefighters more than £1,000 a year.

The government also wants to increase the pension age to 60 or over, raising the prospect of 60 year olds being forced to do firefighting duties.

The pension announcement has also received an angry response from those unions who have been most committed to not striking until the talks were completed.

Brian Strutton of the GMB union accused ministers of breaking their 'solemn pledge' to pay the pensions of public-sector workers. And Unison general secretary said Dave Prentis said, 'These talks are being put in jeopardy by the crude and naive tactics of government ministers who do not seem to understand the word negotiate.'

On the ground there is a growing mood for united action against the attacks. Jess Edwards, a teacher in south London, told Socialist Worker, 'The government has shown, for the second time, that it is not committed to the negotiation process.

“It also confirmed that the Tories want to go to war with public sector workers.”

She rejected the way the government tries to divide the public sector between the well-paid and the low-paid. “The truth is that the majority of us earn the average or below,” said Jess.

'Teachers may earn over £20,000 a year, but we will be expected to pay hundreds of pounds more each year on our pensions—some as much as £100 a month.

“With prices going up, jobs being cut and wages frozen, that means people struggling to make ends meet. And if you do earn less then it is even tougher.”

She added that that is an argument “for us uniting our fight, and not letting the government divide us”.

'The strike on 30 June was a good start,” said Jess. “Now we need more action, involving more unions and more workers.

“We are going to have to be very determined to win. But we have numbers on our side.'

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Fri 29 Jul 2011, 14:55 BST
Issue No. 2262
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