Pensions: ‘We’re fighting back’

Pensions: ‘We’re fighting back’

Strike on 23 March

PUBLIC SECTOR workers are faced with a huge attack on their pension
rights. New Labour want to force them to work longer and pay more for fewer
pension benefits.
But a fight back is being organised.
Over one million public-sector union members are balloting for a one-day
stoppage on 23 March in defence of pensions. This day will be the biggest day
of solidarity this country has seen for some time.

Civil service

WORKING IN the civil service used to be attractive to women workers. In the
1980s, when unemployment was high, a job in the civil service for many women
meant security, a job for life.

Emily Kelly, Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) rep

Through the unions’ hard work in negotiation with management, the civil
service has improved childcare provision, provided flexible working hours, a
steady wage and a good pension. The civil service union, PCS, has fought long
and hard to ensure that these benefits remain an intrinsic part of the job.

But now we see much of the good practice, which the government have
congratulated themselves on, eroded away. And now the final nail in the coffin
is the attack on our pensions.

Local government

PEOPLE WERE shocked when they found out what actually was being proposed
for our pensions. The union has had to explain that it’s a 1% cut in wages for
the lowest paid, plus it’s the equivalent of one hour extra work per week for
the rest of your life.

Nancy Taaffe, Waltham Forest UNISON

If pensions are deferred wages then what the government are trying to do is
to defer the fight until you’re too old and maybe too weak to realise you’ve
been swindled. So it’s a case of rattling the cage now, raising the alarm and
convincing people that they really must strike now – particularly before the
general election, when we’ve got leverage over the government.

There’s been a flood of calls to the union office and to reps to explain
how these pensions changes will affect people. And then the mood has hardened
around the idea of strike action. We’re expecting a ‘yes’ vote in the ballot.
The activists are up for action.

How New Labour hit civil service pensions

MOST CIVIL service jobs have changed beyond recognition over the last few
years. Familiar steady work has been whittled away. Now we feel we are being
whipped to produce a high output of work, with the bare minimum of work
security and job satisfaction. Emily Kelly reports.

Women working in the civil service in particular, have seen all the
best-negotiated changes – flexible work patterns, equal pay, reward systems
and paid time off for caring responsibilities – steadily worn away under New

Our women members found that the increasing pressure placed by the
government and senior civil service management for unrealistic work targets
have seriously affected any hard-earned flexible working hours.

Leave restrictions, sick leave monitoring and the constant need to
continually re-train to keep up with changes due to new technology have left
many women stressed and increasingly unable to cope with balancing work with
home life. The continued push by the government to keep an element of
performance-related pay, although there is solid proof that it discriminates
against part-time workers, has made many women members feel under-valued and
less motivated.

We needed improvements to our pensions to help our women members, for
instance to take account of the unpaid time off that women take due to caring
responsibilities. There is also the question of married women who have taken
time off to bring up their children, who find that if they divorce they have
to try and claim part of their ex-husband’s pension.

But the government have chosen to change our pensions for worse not for
better. Women will have to work longer and harder and will still remain one of
the poorest sections of the population in retirement.

As trade unionists we all had hopes that when Labour came into power, our
pay and conditions would improve. And staff handbooks did encourage new civil
service entrants to join the trade union. But this honeymoon period was soon
over and we have found New Labour to be just the same as the old Tories.

New Labour’s claim to work closely with the trade unions has led to soft
deals and fake comradeship – look at the Warwick union/government deal.

But PCS didn’t go to that tea party. I’m sure if we had, we’d have expected
a lot more than a pleasant chat and a weak handshake before we signed any

Council workers are determined

JUST OVER a week ago I went round to remind everyone to vote for strike
action in the pension ballot. A very young worker who had just joined the
council and the union, said he hadn’t voted yet because he wasn’t sure what it
was all about.

Annoesjka Valent, Hackney UNISON

Before I could reply someone else in the office said that of course he’d have to vote for strike action. They agreed with my main points, like the fact that MPs have made sure they have a good pension. It’s clear workers are very determined about the issue.