The Government and Unions are now dug into entrenched positions on public sector pensions and need to take a deep breath before they start a full on war that will not benefit anyone, explains David Brownsey-Joyce.
The lines have been drawn and the rhetoric has been dialling up constantly for the last few weeks, the Coalition Government and the largest public sector Unions are on a collision course that starts at the end of June with three quarters of a million public servants going on strike, this could be followed up be even more as Unison have yet to ballot their members and the comments coming from the Government are not helping to cool down a volatile situation.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, lit the fuse on a series of public sector walkouts this week by basically saying this is the Government’s position, this is the best deal your members are going to get and you can take it or leave it. Naturally the Unions were not best pleased and now we have the head of Unison saying that we could be heading for a prolonged series of public sector strikes.
It’s funny because if the Government took some time to outline in detail what they are proposing and to negotiate with the Unions rather than just saying we are going to reform your members’ pensions and if you try to stop us we’ll break you in two, they might actually get somewhere. But they are treating the Unions like they are political rivals, they aren’t, they are pressure groups who are only interested in their members’ wellbeing. That is their purpose.
At the same time the Unions need to accept that they are dealing with a strong Government that has no money and needs to make some changes to make things a little more sustainable. They need to accept that Labour is not going to be coming to their rescue, as demonstrated this past week with Ed Balls warning the Unions not to commit to strike action that will give the Government all the momentum it needs to ram through changes but rather to return to the negotiating table.
The Unions need to go back to their members and actually talk, figuring out exactly what their priorities should be. Whether they want to keep the final salary schemes, which leads to situations where you have to constantly be looking to move upwards as the final three years are what determine your final salary pension. So if you want to step back from responsibility after thirty years service or work a little less, tough luck unless you are willing to accept a cut to your pension. Whilst a career based pension would allow a little more flexibility so if members wanted to step down a rung on responsibility they could do so and it would not affect their pension as much.
The Government has already explained that they will not be expecting those earning under a certain threshold to contribute more to their pensions, they are not expecting the armed forces or the police and fire fighters to work longer its going to be the local government workers.
The Government could also do itself a massive favour by including themselves in these packages. Wishful thinking I know but if MPs want people to accept having to work longer and contribute more then they need to follow suit. They are always on about how they are public servants, well all the other public servants are currently facing pay freezes, job losses and pension reforms; it’s time the Government did the same.
Currently the Government is freezing ministerial pay and there are fifty MP posts going at the next election but where is the pension reform? MP salary was originally based upon senior civil servant models and they are under these reforms so if the Government wants all the other public workers to accept these pension changes they need to as well. This would have a big impact on both the PM’s pension after he leaves office as well as the credibility of the proposals amongst the rank and file amongst public sector workers.
Of course if they don’t like it they can always get a job in the private sector.