2 Nov 2011

Strikes on despite last-ditch pensions offer

A major strike will still go ahead on 30 November, unions warn, despite the government’s attempt to head off industrial action with a revised offer on public sector pensions.

Union leaders said they welcomed “improvements” made by ministers to proposals to reform pensions for public sector workers – but said the changes are not enough to entice them to call off the planned walkout later this month.

The pension reform plans have caused fury among unions and workers, who say they are being asked to pay more but work longer for less money when they retire.

The government hoped its latest offer could avoid a planned strike by workers including teachers and council staff – but TUC boss Brendan Barber said the strikes were still set to go ahead.

He said there were still “major areas of concern” over the government’s proposals.

Unions remain firmly committed to continuing their preparations for the planned day of action on 30 November. Union statement

A statement issued on behalf of the Public Services Liaison Group (PSLG) of unions said: “The PSLG welcomed this movement in the government’s position which has come as a direct result of the strength of feeling and determination shown by public sector workers and the groundswell of support for the TUC’s day of action at the end of this month.

“These proposals, and their detailed implications for the pensions offer within each scheme, will now need to be considered in detail…All the unions have indicated throughout this process their determination to reach a negotiated settlement on all these issues. That remains the position and unions will engage intensively in the coming weeks.

“But unless and until further real progress is made and acceptable offers are made within those negotiations, unions remain firmly committed to continuing their preparations for the planned day of action on 30 November. A further meeting of the PSLG will be held in November to consider reports on any progress made within the sector talks.”

Read more: How fair is public sector pension reform? 

Pensions offer

Ministers had earlier maintained that the new offer would benefit employees in teaching, local government, the NHS and other parts of the public sector.

Prime Minister David Cameron told MPs that low and middle-income public sector workers will get more from their pensions under the proposed reforms.

He also said public sector pensions would still be “far better” than many available to those working for private companies. And Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said the new offer represented an 8 per cent increase on the previous suggestion.

I think what Danny Alexander was saying is that this is as good as it gets. Prime minister’s official spokesman

Mr Alexander said he had also listened to the argument that those closest to retirement should not have to face any change at all, announcing that no-one within 10 years of retirement will see any change over when they can retire, nor any decrease in the amount of pension they receive.

He said: “I fully understand that families across the country are feeling financial pressure right now. These are unprecedented and tough economic times.

“But reform is essential because the costs of public service pensions have risen dramatically over the last few decades. The bottom line is that we are all living longer…I hope that the trade unions will now grasp the opportunity that this new offer represents. It is the chance of a lifetime to secure good, high-quality and fair public service pensions.”

The prime minister’s official spokesman later added: “The next step in the process is to continue with negotiations on the individual schemes, but I think what Danny Alexander was saying is that this is as good as it gets.

“We are continuing with our commitment to reform public sector pensions… We want to make sure we have a system which is fair both to public sector workers and to the taxpayer. We think these proposals strike the right balance.”

Taxpayer cost

Pensions experts have criticised the government for failing to reveal how much the proposed concessions will cost the taxpayer.

Dr Ros Altmann, director general of Saga and a former government on pensions, said: “It is just astonishing.

“Of course they could release costings if they wanted to. You could not make an offer unless you had done the costing, unless you were very irresponsible and don’t care about taxpayers’ money.”

“But we have seen recently how the government has been trying to make savings everywhere.”

Independent pension consultant John Ralfe said it would have been “very straightforward” for the Treasury to have calculated the increased cost to the taxpayer, adding: “I’m rather cross with the government.”

He added: “This looks more like a major capitulation than a concession.”