Unions call for pension talks as public sector strikes

10 May 12
Trade unions are urging the government to reopen negotiations on public sector pension changes as hundreds of thousands of workers strike today over the issue.
By Richard Johnstone | 10 May 2012

Trade unions are urging the government to reopen negotiations on public sector pension changes as hundreds of thousands of workers strike today over the issue.Strike May 10 Photo: PA

Public sector workers across five trade unions are taking part in a 24-hour stoppage. Unions say that as many as 400,000 people across Britain could be involved, but the government contests this.

The action is the latest in the dispute over changes to pensions, which the government says is needed to make them affordable. These include a later retirement age and a move to a career average defined benefit – rather than final salary – for the civil service, NHS, teachers and local government schemes.

Civil servants represented by the Public and Commercial Services and Unite unions are among those taking action, as well college lecturers in the University and College Union and civil servants in Northern Ireland.

The PCS said early indications are that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of its 250,000 public sector members are on strike.

This has already led to disruption at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, where all business has been suspended. All national museums in Wales are also closed, according to the union.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘The early signs are that our strike is being very well supported across the UK. Our members do not take strike action lightly but, faced with severe attacks on their pensions, pay, jobs and communities, they have no choice but to defend what they and their families have worked to create for generations.

‘Ministers are making unpopular, unnecessary and unfair cuts to the livelihoods of public servants to pay off a deficit caused by greed and recklessness in the financial sector, and for more than 12 months have refused to negotiate on the key issues of paying more and working longer for a worse pension.’

Workers represented by Unite in the NHS are also taking part in today’s action. Council staff are not part of the action because, unlike in other public sector schemes, the terms of their new pension arrangements have not been finalised.

Gail Cartmail, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said that the coalition’s ‘sustained attack’ on public sector pensions had already led to contribution increases for public sector workers.

She called for the government to reopen ‘genuine and meaningful talks with the unions’ after yesterday’s Queen's Speech confirmed that the government was pressing ahead with its proposals.

She added: ‘Our members believe that the government is attacking their pensions as a means of helping reduce the budget deficit caused by a greedy City elite that has brought the economy to its knees. This is blatantly unfair.’

The Cabinet Office has said that around 100,000 civil servants are taking part in the strike, down from 146,000 who were involved in last November’s action.

In an update, the department said there had been no delays at borders as a result of the staff strikes, and only nine of more than 700 jobcentres across the country had closed.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude urged the unions to stop what he called ‘futile’ industrial action.

He said: 'We would urge these union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and nothing further will be achieved through strike action.

‘In March we set out our final proposed agreements on pension reform following more than a year of intensive discussions with trades unions. Our reforms ensure that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available and that they can be sustained for the future.’

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