Thursday, 15 September 2011

Hands off Our Pension

The country's three largest trade unions — Unite, Unison, and the GMB — joined the Fire Brigades Union in announcing they will ballot their members over a coordinated programme of industrial action in protest at proposed changes to pensions.

It could see hundreds of thousands of Scottish workers, and millions across the UK, downing tools in November.

The mass walkout has been pencilled in for November on the date Chancellor George Osborne is expected to give his pre-Budget report.

Mike Arnott, secretary of the Dundee Trade Union Congress, said there is widespread anger over plans to increase workers' pension contributions.

"If this is well coordinated then it will have a massive impact," he said. "There will be more people coming out than in the General Strike 85 years ago. There is a huge amount of anger."

Mr Arnott, a member of the GMB, added: "We are not one of the most radical unions so when they get annoyed it indicates there will be a massive response."

He added that he disagreed with Labour leader Ed Miliband, who said the unions should not threaten industrial action while negotiations over the proposed changes to pensions are continuing.

"We have to kick the negotiations on by taking some action. People are talking about paying another 3.2% into our pensions but it's not going into the pot — the money will go to the government and we'll get less in our pension. It is quite horrendous."

The Public and Commercial Services Union have said it will take part in the strike.

"That will affect the DWP and HMRC call centres," said Mr Arnott. "But last time the PCS went on strike it went beyond that, it also affected the sheriff court. Local government will also be affected."

Scotland's largest teaching union the EIS is balloting members for a November strike. Unions think the one-day strike could be just the beginning of a winter of discontent.

Mr Arnott said: "These things tend to start with a one-day strike and get ratcheted up."

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "The union movement has taken this step with reluctance, but we have been faced with a government that refuses to negotiate in good faith."

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said: "Our view is that the best way forward is to continue with talks and we have always been very clear that we should try to have a constructive dialogue with the unions.

"Clearly, it is disappointing that there have been calls for industrial action, particularly as the talks are still ongoing.

"On pensions, we have been very clear about the need for reform, but we have also been making the point that, even after these reforms come through, public sector pensions will still be among the best available."

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said: "I think the Government and unions should be round the table talking. Strikes are a last resort and a sign of failure."

First Minister Alex Salmond said it was too early for strike action. "I think there is a case for public sector pension reform.

"My difficulty with what the UK Government is proposing is the desire they have to increase pension contributions now, or very shortly in the next financial year, against a background where many public sector workers are having a pay freeze and prices are rising very fast.

"I think that's an unreasonable thing to do and something which is not necessary in terms of the shape of the public sector pension funds."