Public sector workers strike over pensions reform

Thousands of public sector workers have gone ahead with strike action today (Thursday 30 June) over plans to reform pay and pensions.

The reforms include increasing the contributions that public sector employees pay into their pensions.

Prime minister David Cameron said public sector pension reform is essential and would secure affordable pensions for decades to come.

Addressing the Local Government Association, Cameron said: “We just cannot go on as we are. That is not because, as some people say, public service pensions are ridiculously generous. In fact, around half of public service pensioners receive less than £6,000 a year.

“The reason we cannot go on as we are is because as the baby boomers retire – and thankfully live longer – the pension system is in danger of going broke.”

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is striking over the lack of movement from the government on the central propositions that teachers will have to pay 50% more for their pensions, which, the NUT said, risks many teachers being forced to leave the pension scheme altogether and work longer to get a full pension.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “The action on Thursday is unavoidable and unless the government starts listening rather than simply imposing its will, it leaves us with little choice other than to consider further action.”

More than a quarter of a million civil and public sector servants voted for strike action; the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has worked with the NUT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and the University and College Union to co-ordinate today’s strikes.

Speaking after a meeting with ministers on 27 June, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is a dispute that is entirely of the government’s making. We did not ask for pensions to be cut, we did not ask for public servants to be told they must work years longer and pay more for much less in retirement.

“Every independent analysis shows public sector pensions are affordable now and in the future, and costs are falling in the long term.

“On Thursday (30 June), we will see hundreds of thousands of civil and public servants on strike and, on the experience of today’s meeting and the last few months of government obstinacy, we fully expect to be joined by millions more in the autumn.”

Michaela Berry, partner and head of the public sector unit at pensions law firm, Sackers, said: “It is difficult not to be sympathetic to friends and neighbours who work in the public sector, who are facing having their overall benefits package reduce as a result of the proposed changes to pension arrangements.

“But personal sympathy may evaporate with the reality of the economic squeeze – the decline in household disposable income was confirmed yesterday as the fastest drop since 1977.

“Given private sector workers have seen the closure of their own final salary schemes and it takes around £100,000 worth of defined contribution (DC) saving to produce a pension of £6,000, decent pensions are an unaffordable luxury for many.

“Coupled with the prospect of potentially paying higher taxes to pay for pensions for the public sector, unless a resolution is achieved, and we can begin to see the perfect storm brewing.”

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