• Ministers plan to bypass unions over pensions strike

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  • 7 Nov 2011
  • Comments 21 comments

The government is set to bypass union leaders who are “hell bent on strike action” in the row over public sector pensions, chief treasury secretary Danny Alexander has said.

Last week the government made concessions on its original offer on pension changes - including increased accrual rates and protection for schemes for older workers – as it seeks to avoid UK-wide walk outs later this month.

But, many union leaders were unconvinced by the offer, with the Public and Commercial Services Union strongly criticising it as “bad news”; the largest public sector union, Unison, voted last week to join co-ordinated strike action.

This has prompted Alexander to hit back at union leaders by revealing plans circumvent them and communicate directly with 2.5 million public sector workers.

In an interview on the Andrew Marr show at the weekend, he said: “The most important people here are not the trade union leaders. They're the individual nurses, teachers and civil servants.

"This week, and over the next couple of weeks, we will be communicating directly to 2.5m public servants across this country to explain to them what it is the government is offering.”

The move is an appeal to individual workers to accept the changes, and reject industrial action that could damage the economy, he said.

"In those people's hands is the decision about whether or not to go on strike. In those people's hands is the influence on the unions,” Alexander added.

He said that while most of the unions are moderate and want to reach an agreement there are some “who seem desperate, hell-bent if you like, on strike action”.

"What we need to make sure is that the interests of public servants are not set aside in the interests of trade union leaders who want to go on strike.”

However, critics have raised concerns that the government’s actions are an attempt to undermine collective action by appealing to individuals.

Appearing on the same programme, Labour’s Douglas Alexander called the government’s concession "a welcome step forward". But he added: “I think there needs to be further negotiations. We think there needs to be further compromise on both sides.

"The public sector trade unions need to recognise that we're all going to have to work longer and contribute more in the future. On the other hand, I think there are some very specific details that need to be looked at by the government."

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  • Have your say...i have just read my copy of PM magazine December 2011<br/>What surprised me was page 24 ONLINE COMMENT  has 4  comments out of 20 all have one line yet this does not accord with the online comments totally. There are other comments that differ from this pro-government lines. As a retired  Chartered Member who has spent the greater part of my working life as a senior trade union official , having also served on the Regional Industrial Development Board of the DTI, MSC, Training & Enterprise Council,  RDA , etc alongside my role in the collective bargaining machinery at local regional , national and trans national level  I have always felt that transparency , seeing both opinions , openness in dialogue is the way forward . Certainly that has been the past in the IPM  through to the CIPD . <br/>Something has changed in giving such a one sided  column in the magazine

  • RT 08 November 2011 16:18 - Whilst I applaud the main gist of this comment, I am very interested in where the salary figures were obtained. £21,000 for an HR Manager in the public sector strikes me as ridiculously low. I was earning more than this as an HR Assistant in the public sector. The HR Managers were on upwards of £33,000, which is far closer to your quoted private sector figure. The gap in wages is not as large as these figures suggest.

  • I have to comment on the number of people who say their pensions have been cut so why shouldn't those of public servants be cut too . . .  am I missing somthing in thinking that we should all be fighting for better terms, conditons, pay and pensions and seeking to better what we have not wishing those with better to take a cut?

  • I have been a trustee of private sector final salary pension schemes in two different companies.  In the last one, when people there were faced with the choice of paying more to keep the scheme going, keeping their contributions the same in return for lower accruals going forward, or leaving the scheme, nobody left, and only half a dozen people froze their contribution rate.  Everybody else understood the value of the final salary pension, took a deep breath and paid more in.  Contributions went up over a period of 6 years from 4% to 7% of salary.  In the end the scheme closed anyway, because of the combined effect of longevity increases and poor stock market performance.  As trustees, we argued for the employees to be given the choice to pay in even more to keep it going - confident that they would have done so - but the company didn't give us the option.  People were really upset about it, but striking wasn't an option, so some of us voted with our feet and left the company.  That's the reality these days.  It's tough for everybody.  And we weren't in receipt of massively higher salaries than people in the public sector either.  I'm not saying that it's good or right or motivational, but it's just the way it is. If we live longer, and we don't make adequate provision for our old age, then we shall have to work longer to support ourselves.

  • For years public sector workers have been told by their employer to accept pay rises lower than those in the private sector because their 'better' pension forms part of any pay deal. That is a fact. But now that the pension arrangements are being changed will public sector workers be recompensed for all the pay that they have lost? I think not. Furthermore although the government is saying that the arrangements for workers approaching retirement will be protected that is not the case. Firstly because their pensions will still be linked to the CPI rather than the RPI which will cost them 20-25% of their pension. Secondly because they will be asked to pay £60-£80 per month extra into their pension at a time that their pay is frozen with inflation at over 5%. Many will not be able to do this which means that their pension will ultimately be even lower. That is hardly what you call 'protected'. The government and the media have done a very good job of setting public and private sector workers at each other's throats while those who caused this economic crisis, the fat cat bankers and financiers, are carrying on as before, awarding themselves massive pay rises and inflated bonuses. Quite frankly the whole situation stinks.

  • I'm sure if the concessions made by the government were reasonable and affordable we wouldn't be having this discussion. To ask workers who have had no pay rises for two years to pay 50% more than currently into a pension pot we will have to work longer and get less from it. The reality is that the money will not be used for the pension but to pay off a tiny fraction of the deficit caused by the banking bailout. <br/><br/>You who voted Tory have very short memories. They ruinied British industry,and they seem hellbent on doing the same for our public sector.

  • There are differences between public & private sector, the private sector generally have higher wages than the public, a HR Manager for example can expect to earn c.£21000 in the public sector, a HRM in the private is usually on £35,000+.  Therefore if the few benefits of the public sector are scrapped, what incentive is there for people to continue in the public sector, what happens if everyone leaves for higher wages?  Public sector workers currently have no job security, no payrises, no bonuses, no opportunities for learning or development, very few chances for progression, the fact that so many are still there is a credit to them.  It is easy to criticise when you're on the 'other side'.<br/><br/>Working longer is one thing, but working longer, paying in significantly more, to get significantly less upon retirement is another thing entirely.  Many people won't be able to afford the increased pension contributions, which means people won't pay into it, which increases the likelihood of poverty upon retirement.  A fair compromise needs to be reached.

  • The unions are formed of workers, and represent the views and interests of them.  Private sector pensions, pay and conditions are low partly because of low union membership: if you're being treated badly by the employer, organise, get active and fight back.  If a majority of members vote in favour of action, then action will be taken; that is how a democratic system works.  Those who don't take part have no right to complain about the result.  Just like, say, general elections.

  • the public sector has accepted years of lower than inflation rises - even in the climate of private sector pay claims in excess of inflation.  They did this because they were promised the pie in the sky before they die.  Now the government want to break their contract.  I think as a first step governemnt managers should look to efficiency savings before they strip the poor cleaners and low paid workers of the promises they made them.  <br/><br/>If we value their services then we should show it by either paying them a decent wage or a decent pension.

  • This (Tony O 07 November 2011 16:56 seems to say it all:<br/><br/>And the ground has shifted (if only for those within 10 years of retirement). But the accrual rate has been increased in the latest offer. Us ther room for a stock-take, and a full explanation of the latest offer<br/><br/><br/>Tony O 07 November 2011 16:56 <br/>I just do not see a 22% vote in favour of strike action in a turnout of less than 30% as anything like a mandate for taking strike action. Maybe union leaders need to be bypassed if they plan on pressing ahead despite such low turnouts. Don't low turnouts tend to suggest that people really are not that passionate about the subject?<br/><br/>e your say...

  • Most public sector workers accept, reluctantly, that change to the pension scheme is necessary.  However, it has to be evenly spread and felt.  For instance, funded schemes should be subject to seperate consideration against non funded schemes.  It always appears that those in local councils suffer most.

  • Have your say... I am a Civil Servant. I work in a small office with three others, all of us have changed our minds so many times over the past week or so whether to strike or not. I voted against the strike and want to go into work. We have, however, been told that if we attend work on the 30th then we can be moved from our own work to fill the post of a striking worker. If we fail to do so then disciplinary action will be taken. I am happy to do my own job but not doing someone else's who is on strike. The only solution is to stay out. This strikes me that both management and the four of us are shooting ourselves well and truly in our combined feet! I wonder how many others are in the same position?

  • The arguments presented thus far display an interesting acceptance that things must be as they are and that a race to the bottom is best for everyone - presumably there's some sense of equity in these arguments, or perhaps it is just an expression of ire that private sector industry pensions were asset stripped and devalued by employers.<br/>The shameful behaviour of operators of private sector pension schemes seems a poor example to hold up as justification for a reduction in public sector schemes - it would be so much more sensible to argue for reform of private sector pension provision, not least so that future generations of private sector workers are less reliant in retirement on other taxpayer funded benefits in order to meet their living expenses.<br/>I'm also bemused that the argument that we are all living longer translates so easily in others minds that we must therefore work longer - what a miserable outcome for those who cannot afford to either retire or at least wind down their work and must instead continue to slog away.<br/>I can't imagine what value a member organisation such as a trades union would have if it didn't argue strongly to gain benefits for its members, or if it didn't place a premium on trying to secure the best deal for them, just as employers will do their best to represent an alternative view.<br/>As for turnout, it's the same system that we use to elect governments, and whilst we generally accept its flaws, few if any. better systems of expressing democratic will have been found - those who didn't vote, but dislike the outcome have only themselves to blame, and those who do not have a right to vote, (i.e. non members,) have no right to demand an alternative outcome or to insist that more should have voted.<br/>As for Mr Alexander, approaching the staff directly after a vote in favour of industrial action will probably be less effective than it would have been before the vote.

  • I am a public sector worker and a member of a union. However, I am afraid I just do not see a 22% vote in favour of strike action in a turnout of less than 30% as anything like a mandate for taking strike action. Maybe union leaders need to be bypassed if they plan on pressing ahead despite such low turnouts. Don't low turnouts tend to suggest that people really are not that passionate about the subject?

  • Have your say...As someone who has worked a total of 9 years in the public sector and 31 in the private sector at different times, I feel well qualified to observe that there are not significant differences in pay in the middle of such organisations. There are, however significant differences in pace and security.  The private sector has a greater sense of urgency and the imperative to survive market conditions is more keenly felt. The sense of entitlement to index linked defined benefit final salary pension plans which prevails in the public sector is no longer appropriate. A lot of people in the public sector realise this and the Government is right to appeal directly to them.

  • Have your say... It is not "bypassing" the unions to communicate directly with the people whose salaries you pay. What kind of 1970s "speak" is this, for People Management to imply in its discourse that somehow only the trade union has the right to put the arguments to working people? Does anybody seriously believe that the union is going to present both sides of the story?<br/>The arithmetic says it all: only 30% have voted at all, and not all of them voted in favour of strike action. Millions remain to be convinced one way or the other. Does People Management have any views on how to reach them with the arguments for NOT going on strike?

  • The pensionable age has to change because people are living longer, its that simple and the only alternative is to significantly increase contributions. The private sector has been dealing with this issue over the past 5-10 years and now it is the turn of the public sector.

  • As I understand it, the unions are still considering the Government's revised offer (not a "concession").  The original attack on the pension schemes was bad enough (especially those with self-funding schemes) and raised a lot of anger; trying to by-pass agreed negotiating machinery will give more support to the unions, not less.

  • I think this is a good move and that the Unions have lost touch with reality and need to be bypassed if they are still insisting on strike action.  Why should the rest of the Country be detrimentally affected because the Unions want to flex their muscles when the Government are making concessions over the pensions?

  • Have your say...Please try to convince me why the public Sector unions think they are special.  The vast majority of workers who participate in  private pensions have seen their investment practically halved by the performance of the stock market to which such pensions are geared.<br/>Older workers are having ,by necesity, to work beyond the previously accepted retirement age because their pension will not support tham as envisaged.  Why should I, as a tax payer, have to contribute to the public service pension pot??  It is about time these Trade Unions got real and began to appreciate what it is like in the real world.  Their protectionism has no place in the current financial climate.  Wouldn't be nice to avail oneself of a final salary pension scheme or even something approaching it. What the government should have said was that as from XYZ date the new retirement age will be 67/68 for everyone.  That would have prevented all this silly nonsense about abolishing the default retirement age and the procedure that went with it and it would also have plugged one avenue for Tribunal claims.

  • I think this will be a mistake. Most of my colleagues are incensed about the pension changes and know they are uneccessary. As a trade unionist I hope they do try and go over the head of our union, it may gain us even more support.