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These Strikes Are a Disproportionate Reaction to Moderate Changes to Make Public Sector Pensions Sustainable

Posted: 30/11/11 08:09

Today's strikes have been a long time coming and trade unions have had ample opportunity to call them off, but a small number of hardliners are determined to cause disruption to millions of people.

Union leaders have called out their members on strike with between a quarter and a third of them actually voting in favour of industrial action.

Worse still, they are striking over reforms that, even if they go ahead, leave public sector workers with pensions far more generous than can be expected by most private sector workers - the people who will pick up the bill.

Big public sector unions like Unite and Unison would like you to believe that this mass downing of tools is about solidarity and standing shoulder to shoulder against the big mean government who want to work them all into an early grave; it isn't. The strikes are a hugely disproportionate over-reaction to what are moderate and reasonable reforms to make public sector pensions more affordable.

The coalition's most recent pensions offer was incredibly generous compared to what most taxpayers working in the private sector can afford to save for their own retirement. That is completely unfair given that those private sector workers earn less as well. Union leaders are dreaming if they think that they can get a better deal that will last. These strikes will see deficit-denying union dinosaurs, who refuse to accept the painful truth about public sector pensions, leading thousands of public sector employees out onto the streets, needlessly losing a day's earnings, despite the fact that negotiations are still ongoing.

The concessions the unions want, combined with an ageing population and no increase in the retirement age, would lead to an army of retirees drawing public sector pensions from an ever-diminishing pool of money. Change has to happen at some point; otherwise we will simply end up in a position that both unions and the government would find equally undesirable: that of having promised pensions that we can no longer afford to pay.

We cannot kick the can down the road any longer. It's time for reform. Do not underestimate the scale of the problem that is already facing unfunded public sector pensions. Our recent research shows that, excluding the NHS, there are more public sector workers drawing a pension than there are working and paying in.

Over at Unison's website the front page shows a woman holding a sign declaring "I'm taking action" with the tagline "fighting for decent pensions". But what is it that these nurses, bin men and dinner ladies are taking action against? They are acting against the interests of taxpayers now and in the future, asking the next generation to promise to pay for expensive retirement arrangements. And they're doing it with a healthy wedge of taxpayers' money in the union warchest.

As our Trade Union Rich List revealed, union leaders like Dave Prentis have pay and benefits running into six figures that no doubt mean a prosperous retirement is secure. We can't let them line up a financial disaster for the rest of us.

 

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