My Observations Rows Over Public Sector Strike Deepens. To do it justice I decided to include the article below: Cameron thinks of our Public Sectors as Damp Squib giod help us all”
Mr Cameron clashed with Ed Miliband over the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions, accusing Labour of “taking the side of the unions”.
But Mr Miliband accused the PM of “demonising” low-paid workers and “spoiling for a fight”.
Unions said up to two million workers took part in industrial action.
The government says its figures show turnout was “much lower than these claims”.
Thousands of schools have closed as a result and hospital operations were cancelled while courts and government offices were among other disrupted services.
But thanking those who had helped to keep public services going – including No 10 staff – Mr Cameron told MPs that early evidence suggested about 40% of schools were open, less than one in three civil servants had walked out while contingency measures at airports and ports were “minimising the impact”.
There was also full ambulance cover and only 18 out of 900 job centres had closed, he added.
“It looks like something of a damp squib,” he said.
Mr Miliband said the government was to blame for the strike, likely to be the largest by the public sector in years, by effectively calling time on negotiations and not meeting with the unions for nearly a month.
I wouldn’t call two million people taking strike action a damp squib”
End QuoteDave PrentisUnison
“What has the prime minister gone around saying? He has gone round saying he is privately delighted the unions have walked into his trap. That is the reality. He has been spoiling for this fight.”
Despite government claims that low-paid workers would be protected, he said more than 800,000 part-time workers on salaries of less than £15,000 faced a “3% tax rise” on their pensions.
“The reason people have lost faith is he is not being straight with people,” he said.
He added: “The difference is, unlike him, I am not going to demonise the dinner lady, the cleaner and the nurse.”
Mr Cameron said he did not want to see strikes, and that negotiations were continuing. While the Labour leader had previously said it would be wrong to strike while talks were under way he had now changed his mind.
During stormy exchanges at PM’s questions he accused Mr Miliband of being “left-wing, weak and irresponsible” and said Labour was unwilling to condemn the strikes because they were “in the pockets” of the unions.
“The leader of the Labour Party has taken sides today,” he said.
“He is on the side of the trade union leader that wants strikes not negotiations, on the side of the people who want to disrupt our schools, disrupt our borders, disrupt our country.”
Changes to public sector pensions were “absolutely essential”, Mr Cameron added, and the offer made by the government was “very reasonable and very fair”.
Amid a row over whether meaningful negotiations were going on, the Cabinet Office accepted that the last official talks between ministers and union leaders on the pension issue had taken place on 2 November.
But it said talks on a scheme-by-scheme level with civil servant and local government representatives had taken place since, while meetings with teaching and health unions were scheduled in the next few days.
Later the government said less than a third of civil servants had taken part in the strike, only 14 out of 900 job centres and benefit offices were shut and there had been “no serious disruption” at airports and ports.
Ministers said only 79,000 health workers were on strike in England, while Unison said more than 400,000 NHS workers across the UK took part.
It is thought that about 62% of state schools in England were closed, 66% in Northern Ireland, 86% in Wales and more than 98% in Scotland.
Unison, which represents 1.3 million workers, said the prime minister was sounding “increasingly desperate”.
“I wouldn’t call two million people taking strike action a damp squib,” said its general secretary Dave Prentis.
“He has only to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio, or look out the window, to see nurses, dinner ladies, paramedics, social workers, teaching assistants, lollipop ladies amongst others standing up for their pensions.
“And the thousands of picket lines, demonstrations, rallies and events are not a figment of our imagination. These people are angry public servants who the government has driven to the end of their tether.”
Wednesday November 30 strike was the biggest strike action in history compare to the 70s-80s under a Labour & Tory led Govt. The difference is that the Fibdems are in bed together with the Tories (coalition) Based on my experience I’m sure the unions took the right action to tell the coalition to wake up and take note that Education, Local Govt, Health, Civil Service workers are angry with the pittance of a pension that they will received on retirement
Instead this coalition are hell bent on bring down the trade unions and turning the tide back to the 70s to 90s under a Conservative watch. It will be no surprises if this coalition starts to bring in more anti trade union laws which will be much worse than what we will have been accustom to see when coalition will introduce very hard-line antitrade union laws.
The coalition will tell us that public sector pensions are more generous than the private sector. This is false as the bankers, supermarkets, oil directors, and millionaire pensions have increase with inflation while the workers’ pension decreased with inflation year in and year out.
Whilst I’m reminiscing riots and hate crime increased under a Conservative Govt. If we compare the recent events of the riots that took place this year there is a very strong link to the 70s – 80s and youth unemployment which this coalition has not been addressed yet. Come on coalition Govt start to smell the coffee.
30 yrs ago Thatcher sent in the army to give support to the police to stop the miners from strike action to let in the unionbusters(Scabs) into the mines.
Tory attempts to belittle public-sector industrial action rang pathetically hollow today as millions of workers joined the fight against government-imposed pension cuts.
Services across England, Scotland and Wales ground to a halt in the strongest show of union strength in a generation.
Schools, courts, museums and job centres were paralysed in the 24-hour strike which also brought extensive disruption to transport, hospitals and government departments.
In Scotland over 300,000 workers took to the streets while in Wales an estimated 170,000 walked out in opposition to the brutal cuts.
Rallies up and down England drew tens of thousands – and received the overwhelming support of the public.
I went to a rally in Birmingham TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “On this unprecedented day when 30 unions have members taking action together we are sending a crystal-clear message to the government.
“That we are strong, that we are united, and that our campaign will go on until we secure justice and fairness for every public servant.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government is carrying out a massive raid on pensions which is a reflection of its unrelenting mismanagement of the economy.
“Suffering and misery are a price the government wants us to pay – this is an all-out attack on public services.”
The Government has delivered a double threat to public sector union bosses ahead of a mass strike planned for next Wednesday, which is expected to cause major disruption.
There is no surprise again when Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has warned the deal on the table over pension reform could be withdrawn if the walkout goes ahead.
Mr Alexander, who is leading the negotiations with the unions, insisted the Government’s offer was “good and generous” and warned the strike will make an agreement more difficult.
To make matters worse Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has suggested laws over balloting members could be reformed, making it harder to take strike action. He called the walkout “stupid and wrong”.
Last Wednesday’s action, #N30 which involves 33 unions, could see around two million people in total stay away from work including 18,000 immigration officials.
I totally agree with Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, who said that the strike by up to 2.6 million workers, in jobs ranging from teachers to immigration officers, would be dominated by women participants, and its impact would worsen the Conservative party with problem with female voters.
In an effort to shift public opinion against the strike and dissuade workers from walking out, ministers claimed the economy would lose £500m and an unspecified number of jobs would be axed, because working parents would be forced into emergency childcare by school closures. An estimate dismissed by one respected thinktank as “economic nonsense”.
In the past pensions have not been burning issues for members of black communities who have been struggling against racism. This has partly been because the number of black workers in the UK black community at pensionable age has been relatively small and for younger workers the need to plan financial security in their old age is not at the forefront of their minds. However a recent report by the Runnymede Trust demonstrated that this is rapidly changing and forecasted an increase in the number of Black people over 65 (in England and Wales) from 230,000 in 2001 to 2.7 million by 2051. More recently however debates at the TUC Black Workers’ Conference and increased involvement of black workers in the recent industrial action show that this is becoming an important issue.
The current attack on pensions is nothing new. Back in the 1980s Margaret Thatcher’s Government, keen to help their friends in the city develop a financial services industry, went on a charm offensive to persuade public sector workers to move their pensions from secure final salary schemes to personal pension plans. What they didn’t say was that a personal pension plan costs lot more because of administration cost and that the value of your final pension would be dictated by how well the stock market was doing at the point of retirement. They also failed to warn those that left pension schemes that the sales patter fed them by banks and insurance agents that they would get a better pension on retirement was lies. Unsurprisingly by the end of the 1990s it was discovered that thousands of public sector employees had been mis-sold personal pension plans. Many firms that were involved in this scam went out of business to avoid having to pay compensation to the victims and it was left to the taxpayer in the form of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to pick up the tab.
Attacks on private sector defined benefit (final salary or career average) schemes came in the 1990s when employers decided that they would prefer not just to take pension holidays by not paying the employer’s contribution into company pension schemes, but not have schemes at all and force workers, at least those that could afford it, to rely on personal pension plans bought from financial services companies, unless of course you were a top executive. This little trick was accomplished by asking financial actuaries in the city to change the way that they calculated the long term values of pension funds investments. The calculation was changed to calculate the risk of the funds over a much shorter period and based on investment values just after there had been stock market crash.
Not surprisingly the result was that what had been once financially viable pension funds were found to have large pension gaps as the assets in the schemes were drastically downgraded and liabilities increased. This of course provided employers with the excuse to either close pension final salary pension schemes to new employers or close them down completely thus devastating pension provision for ordinary workers in the private sector.
With pension provision in the private sector devastated the current Government has turned its attention to the public sector where workers are accused of having the benefit of gold plated pension schemes. This is despite the fact that roughly half of public service pensioners receive less than £5,600 a year. Recent changes to the public sector pension schemes since the coalition Government came into power mean that those in public services are already paying a 3% increase in their contributions and seeing the value of their pensions drop because index rating of pensions has been moved from the retail price index to the consumer price index, which will mean smaller annual pension rises.
This means that members in public services are already paying more for less, but the Government is not stopping there. Future proposals for changes to the schemes include:
- Increased contributions – by 50% or more
- Raised Retirement Age – to 66 for those over 42, 67 for those between 34 and 42 and to 68 for those under 34
- Replacement of final salary schemes with career average – less money for our retirement
These changes are likely to make being in the pension scheme, if you work for public services, prohibitively expensive and result in many current workers opting out of their current pension schemes and future workers not joining the schemes.
Public sector unions are quite rightly vigorously campaigning against this outrageous robbery. Pensions are deferred payment for old age in terms of the workers’ contribution and the employer’s contribution. The fact that the Government believes like their friends in the private sector that they are entitled to renege on schemes that workers rely on for their retirement is outrageous.
For the Black community the context for the current attacks on public sector pensions is one in which many Black people endure pensioner poverty and where the number of older Black people is growing rapidly. Runnymede’s recent report, Ready for Retirement?, shows that people from all Black backgrounds are more likely to experience pensioner poverty than the wider population. Statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that half of older Pakistani and Bangladeshi people live in poverty, as do almost a third of Indians and African Caribbean’s, in comparison to one in six older people overall. Black people are also more likely to experience poverty before retirement. For example, 65 per cent of Bangladeshi people live in poverty, compared to 20 per cent of white people (DWP figures). There is, therefore, huge risk that many in the growing population of older Black people will have insufficient income to maintain a decent standard of living.
Many young black workers who work in the service industries such as finance, media, IT or the arts and don’t understand the importance of pensions do not have access to a decent occupational pension scheme. Many others who work for agencies, in call centres or doing temporary work are not covered by occupational pension schemes. For women, not having access to an occupational pension scheme to supplement their state pension is disastrous. They already suffer because of career breaks to raise children and make up an overwhelming proportion of those that work part time. Recent research revealed that women lose out both ways as they often fail to pay enough contributions to receive a full state old age pension. As a result 16% of newly retired women have a full basic state pension as against 78% men.
Luckily many black workers are relatively young compared to the population as a whole with 32.39 per cent in the 22-44 age group and 15.18 per cent in the 45-64 age group. This means that the spectre of mass pensioner poverty in black communities is some way off. However in 20 – 30 years there will be a tenfold increase in numbers of pensioners in the black communities and if we do not wake up to the realities of old age then our communities will be heading for a disaster. Those that believe that culturally we will be alright because younger relatives will look after us, or that they will go back home where it’s cheaper to live are deluding themselves. If we are to avoid the scenario of black pensioners dying because they haven’t got enough money to keep their houses warm or eat decent meals then action is needed now.
It is not an issue that can be left to others outside our community to campaign on. If we want to rectify the historic disadvantage that is faced by black pensioners, have access to decent occupational pensions and ensure that there is an adequate basic pension provision for our retirement then we have wake up to this issue now. We need to educate communities about pension issues, get involved in the union campaigns and industrial action to defend public sector pensions and fight to secure occupational pensions for all. This is not a choice, we can’t afford not to.
A major outcome of Thatcher’ introduction of neo-liberalism into the British economy in the early 1980′s was the sharp rise in unemployment especially among young people. In areas that saw the collapse of old industries such as mining, textiles, steel, car manufacture and ship building, the young people of the time saw their futures consigned to the dole. They represented a whole generation of young people that were never to work and who make up the core of today’s long term unemployed. In Black communities where gaining employment had always been a problem the unemployment rates for young people spiralled to over 50% and arguably laid the foundations for the uprisings across every major city in 1981.
The Government response at this time was to come up with training programmes to prepare young people to work. The most famous of these was the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOPS) which was run by the Manpower Service Commission. It was designed to offer 12 months training and aimed at school leavers, but was notorious as a cheap labour scheme where participants got little useful training and no chance of a permanent job at the end unless they were part of a trade union negotiated scheme.
Thirty years on the 2008-09 recessions saw unemployment rise to 2.5million, with far higher numbers finding themselves out of work. This exacerbated the situation in black communities where high levels of worklessness already existed and where for young people, gaining access to work was already a problem. A report published by the institute of Public Policy Research in January 2010 showed that almost half (48%) of Black people aged between16-24 were unemployed – compared to the rate of unemployment among white young people which stood at 20% and the recent rise in youth unemployment to over a million means that the situation for young black people is getting worse.
In February 2011 the Coalition Government Minister John Hayes announced that the Government would ‘increase the budget for Apprenticeships to over £1,400 million in 2011-12, helping to create a new generation of skilled workers to drive economic growth’. This increase is an extension to current Government apprenticeship schemes that are coordinated by the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) and the money is aimed at creating 100,000 extra apprenticeships by 2014.
However, the TUC have had a long standing concern about the difficulties young black workers face gaining access to both employment and decent quality government training schemes. As far back as 1984 in its report ‘Moving On’, the TUC highlighted concerns that the welfare to work New Deal Programme had poorer outcomes for young black workers. In 2005, through its ‘Workplace Training – a Race for Opportunity’ the TUC called on the Government to use public procurement as a lever to improve the employment of black workers and to boost training, apprenticeships and skills levels.
The previous government acknowledged the lack of involvement of young black workers in apprenticeships and put in place plans to commission a number of diversity pilots that would run over a period of four years designed to improve participation in apprenticeships. The current Government has put in place the diversity pilots but has only funded the programme for a year so far with the possibility of a further 12 months funding.
The TUC, in highlighting the need for urgent action to ensure black workers do not disproportionately continue to miss out on the benefits that apprenticeships can offer, are working to highlight three main issues which are:
- The need for comprehensive monitoring systems to enable the National Apprenticeship Service and the Government to assess how their strategy on increasing diversity in apprenticeships is working;
- The need to ensure that black workers gain access to good quality apprenticeships and that mechanisms are put in place to ensure that discrimination by employers is tackled so that they are able to obtain workplace placements;
- The need to ensure that young black women are able to access the full range of apprenticeships and do not suffer labour market segmentation in relation to access to training on the basis of their gender; and
- The need to focus on outcomes as well as apprenticeship starts to ensure that black apprentices graduate to full time jobs or higher learning.
In order to highlight these issues the TUC held a joint half day conference at Congress House on 6 September 2011 called ‘Apprenticeships for All’, which was organised as a joint event between the TUC, Versa Professional Services Ltd, Unionlearn and SERTUC. It was aimed at union activists and negotiators, learning reps, equality reps, black activists and employers
Without strong union intervention at workplace and public policy level it is likely that young black workers will not only miss out on the expansion in apprenticeships, but that where they do get apprenticeships find themselves just as many in their parents’ generation, engaged with schemes that are short term, low quality and that do not lead to training progression or to a decent job.
The current Coalition Government however has shown a callous disregard for the vulnerability and lack of right and access to justice of domestic workers. In their headlong flight to reduce immigration by banning non EU migrants from Britain they are attempting to roll back the progress that has been made by domestic workers. On 9 June 2011 Damian Green, Immigration Minister announced a new three month consultation on employment-related settlement. In this consultation are proposals to remove fundamental safeguards designed to protect migrant domestic workers. If implemented these proposals would lead to a return to forced labour and slavery by abolishing the route for overseas domestic workers in private households altogether or for a maximum of 6 months as a visitor only, or 12 months where accompanying a Tier 1 or Tier 2 migrant, with no possibility of extension, no right to change employer, no ability to sponsor dependants, no rights for dependants to work in the UK, and no right to settlement. These changes if implemented would amount to a return to bonded labour. Abolishing or time limiting the domestic workers visa would not stop migrant domestic workers from being brought to Britain and encourage an increase in trafficking via illegal routes and unlawful working.
Shamefully moves by the coalition Government to roll back rights for domestic workers are not confined to the UK. J4DW and domestic Workers worldwide have been fighting for an International labour Organisation Convention to establish basic rights for domestic workers. The proposed convention was finally discussed and adopted at the International labour Congress annual conference in June 2011. The ILO’s 183 member states need to ratify and implement it. But it was a triumph nonetheless that governments, employers and unions from around the world managed over a fortnight last year and a further fortnight this year, plus all the discussions in between, to agree a text, voted for by 396 delegates, with only 16 against and 63 abstentions. Disgracefully delegates had to listen to two contrary voices - the representatives of the British government and of the Confederation of British Industry calling for abstention and opposition respectively. Such action exposes the hypocrisy of a government who claims they are committed to reaching the Millennium Development Goals, not it appears if it involves giving rights non-white women workers. Brendan Barber the TUC General Secretary said ‘I am appalled that the CBI voted against the convention and that the British government abstained. The votes show that employers and governments around the world disagreed with their lack of compassion – they are thoroughly isolated and should be ashamed of their position’.