I’m not striking but for once I sort of wish I was
This blog is written by a group of people with different experiences and therefore different perspectives.
Tomorrow one of my colleagues will have a piece up explaining why he, and many others, will be striking. I imagine his perspective will be representing the vast majority of local authority workers and rightly so. With that in mind I thought it would be appropriate to put the view of someone who won’t be striking now save it interfere with the rightful coverage of a large amount of public sector workers who feel pretty badly treated.
Normally, not striking is fairly easy. In fact, the main reason I am no longer a member of a trade union is that a lot of the previous strikes have been for reasons I just don’t think justify a strike. Indeed, the last major strike over pensions, in defence of the “rule of 85” if I remember correctly, was exactly that type of strike; elitist and a little stupid.
However, this time it’s different. Rather than feeling opposed to the strikers I actually have quite a lot of sympathy with them.
In Local Government there are three issues that make up this strike and I’d like to cover each of them in turn:
1) Career Average Pensions: I don’t know if the Unions would have gone on strike if this was all that was on the table. I fear they would have but hope they know better. Personally, I support a switch to career average. Not being a local government senior manager means the alternative is probably better for me and even if I was a senior manager I like to think I’d recognise that the current position is simply unfair (taking money from the pension pot of the low paid to give to Chief Exec is not my idea of fair).
2) Increasing the retirement age. Ok, so I’d rather not work until I’m 68 but in reality I know that my life expectancy is only going upwards so rationally I know this has to happen. And it’s not as if I’m forced to do the same job until 68; I can still leave my current job at 55 if I really want to; I just won’t get my pension until 68 which, although unfortunate, seems fair to me.
So far, you can see why I’m not striking; in fact I’m sure some of my colleagues would see me as being practically a Tory (although I choose not to declare my voting allegiance ;-)). Now back to the strike:
3) Increase contributions by 3.2% of total salary: Assuming a normal 6.5% contribution this is roughly a 50% increase in pension contributions. This increase will not lead to an improved pension or guarantee an existing pension (see above). It is not based on actuarial advice or on an understanding of the liabilities of our pension fund. In fact, as far as I can tell it is based on no numbers at all (if it was it would surely not be the same in every scheme across the public sector?)
Thus, all we can deduce is that the 3.2% increase is nothing more than a 3.2% cut in our pay. A cut that comes at a time when there have been no pay increases for two years (and none offered for at least the next two) and inflation at 5% for at least one of them. Now, if the Government had argued that the 3.2% cut would enable us to lose less jobs I might (emphasise might) have been persuaded.
They didn’t and it won’t.
Thus, to make this 3.2% increase and pretend it is part of a pensions reform is at best confusing the issue and at worst downright dishonest. It’s just deficit reduction by a different name.
So whilst I agree with the Government over 1 and 2; on issue 3 I find it very strange that the Government are acting in the way they are. Indeed, if I was running their Francis Maude (I assume he is robotic as he repeats the same sound-bite again and again) I would be telling him to ensure that 1 and 2 get passed (to ensure long term sustainability of the schemes) and deal with 3 later (or compromise on 3); maybe as part of a rolling review of liabilities in each scheme (the non-funded schemes might have to pony up some cash but I’d still negotiate that separately).
So tomorrow, when everyone else is striking and I’m crossing the picket line with my head down, for once it won’t be because I disagree with my striking colleagues. I might not fully agree with them either but until the Government can really justify their position re the LGPS and this mythical 3.2% ‘essential’ pay cut you won’t find this blogger with a bad word to say about the strikers either.
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