industrial action

Jim Pickard

John Ralfe, an independent pensions expert, is convinced that the National Union of Teachers has misled members in a fact sheet it gave them ahead of today’s strike.

The NUT insist that their wording is correct; not being a pensions guru, I can only present the two sides of the argument.

The key bit is near the top of the second page, “How much longer does the government want me to work?” The document says that older teachers will be affected: “Anyone aged 57 or less would have to work to 66 and anyone aged 42 or less to 67 (to get their teachers’ pension in full.)” Read more >>

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has just used his LGA conference speech to defend reforms to public sector pensions, arguing that his proposals are fair. He has suggested that people are being told “scare stories” about the government plans. (Here is the full transcript on the Downing St website and this is our news story).

Does he have a point?

The prime minister has claimed that there are rumours that the government is “closing defined benefit schemes and replacing them with defined contribution schemes”. He also claimed that people are being told that “we are stripping workers of the benefits they have already accumulated.”

This is not true, he points out. Not only will workers still have defined benefit schemes. They will also maintain the “final salary link” for benefits already accrued. “Any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue“.

But who is actually saying this? Anyone? Or has the PM created a paper tiger?

The scare stories are the fault of the unions, Cameron appears to suggest, without actually naming them: “they are giving really bad advice to teachers, nurses and the police officers who are wondering whether to continue with their pension.”

UPDATE: Apparently the PM is not blaming the unions per se, his aides claim. Instead this emanated from the fact that Cabinet Office has spoken to public sector staff, who say they are worried about losing such benefits. “We’re very keen to get the message across out there about what we’re really doing,” says one Downing St aide.

In fact the unions are angry about the following changes, which are not yet set in stone but are proposed by the government – as my colleague Brian Groom recently explained:

* Higher contributions to pensions that will have to be made, typically rising by 3.2 per Read more >>

Jim Pickard

Ministers have no qualms about standing up to the unions in the current climate, as you can see from the FT’s splash this morning about their attempts to slash redundancy terms for 500,000 civil servants. The coalition is trying to push through a move – initiated by Labour last year - to reduce the maximum pay-off from 6.5 years to 2. It was thwarted in May when the Public and Commercial Service Union won a judicial review against it.

But is the government prepared to go to war against the union movement? This is the implication from this morning’s Times front page – “Ministers in secret talks to toughen strike laws” – which claims that ministers could re-examine changing strike laws if imminent job losses lead to widespread industrial unrest.

I heard a similar rumour last week but was told the government had not changed its position since late June. Then, the CBI called for a change so that strikes could only happen if 40 per cent of the total workforce backed action – rather than, as present, a majority of those who voted. The business group was apparently slapped down by David Cameron, whose spokesman said there were “no plans to change strike legislation.”

Having “no plans” is not the same as ruling something out indefinitely, of course. Read more >>