Thousands of northern region workers and trade unions taking to the streets for Pensions Justice

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date: 28 November 2011

embargo: calling note/for immediate release

Thousands of workers across the North East and Cumbria will be showing their support for Pensions Justice and joining in with one of the four regional March and rallies across the region on Pensions Day of Action, November 30th.

As well as independent pickets all over the region, workers and trade unionists will be coming together in co-ordinated action in Newcastle-Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Carlisle and Whitehaven.

The Gateshead-Newcastle event is expecting in excess of 3500 thousand marchers, who will be assembling at 10.30am at Gateshead Civic Centre to make the two mile walk (with banners, placards and wearing their Pensions Justice hats to keep out the cold) over the Swing Bridge, along the Quayside and on to Spillers Wharf, where the rally will commence from 12.00 noon.

Speakers at the rally will include trade union leaders (General Secretary of the RMT, Bob Crow), public sector trade unions officials, (Kevin McHugh of PCS, Rehana Azam, National Officer, GMB) and a raft of 'real' workers from a range of backgrounds - a nurse, a teacher and a local government worker, and Clare Williams, Unison's Regional Convenor and Chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance.

Northern TUC Regional Secretary, Kevin Rowan said: 'This is the largest protest by trade unions for a generation and is a clear demonstration of how strongly workers feel about the unfair and unnecessary changes to their pension schemes that the government are attempting to impose. Trade unions have always sensibly and pragmatically negotiated changes to pension schemes and are willing to do so now. Regrettably, this government is seeking to impose a tax on public sector workers with the sole aim of reducing the deficit, but resulting in hard working people paying more, working longer and retiring on smaller pensions.'

Clare Williams, Chair of the Northern Public Services Alliance and Unison Regional Convenor said: 'In a region where 1 in 3 jobs are in the public sector, the Government should be supporting public sector workers and public services, not attacking them. Their deficit reduction programme is an unfair tax on low paid public sector workers, at a time when families are struggling financially to make ends meet. Public sector workers did not cause the economic crisis and should not have their pensions raided to pay for it.'

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT said: 'We will be sending the clearest message to the Government that we will defend our pensions to the hilt and the demand that our members should work longer, pay more and get less will be thrown back in the faces of this Government of millionaire public schoolboys.

'It's the bankers and the bosses who have gambled with our country's future and the men and women who make this country tick should not have to tolerate a worse pension and be forced to work longer to make up for their mistakes.

'RMT members on Tyne and Wear Metro and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary have shown that they are not going to sit back and take this outrageous attempt to consign them to a life of poverty in their old age.'

Rehana Azam, GMB National Officer for Public Services said 'When the value of pensions schemes have been devalued by 15%, when the Osborne tax will see up to 50% levied against a group of workers who didn't cause the financial mess and when the Government says that this is non-negotiable, public sector workers have no alternative but to stand up and take action for their dignity in work and in retirement.'

Linda Hobson Unison, a nurse said: 'I will be striking on the 30th of November for the first time in my nursing career and as a nurse working in critical care it is not a decision I have taken lightly. I, along with my nursing colleagues, have grown increasingly angry with the Government over these proposals that aim to punish NHS workers and force an extra 3% tax on us to pay off the financial deficit.'



Kevin McHugh, PCS NEC Member and civil servant said: 'Everybody in my workplace understands that the government's pensions proposals are unjust. Staff at Longbenton will be robbed of nearly £23 million which will go straight into the treasury's coffers to pay for the mistakes made by wealthy greedy bankers.'

Cath Hepburn UCU, a lecturer at Sunderland College said: 'We know the government is not telling the truth over pensions, and growing numbers of the public know that too.The government wants working people to pay through their pensions, their wages and their jobs for the financial mess we did not create. The average pension for women in the FE (College) sector is £6,000 - hardly gold plated, and set to get worse if the government ploughs ahead with changes. We get annoyed when bankers continue to get huge bonuses. We just want fairness. Members would much prefer to be at work than on picket lines, but we have no choice. We continue to fight for a fair pension in our old age.'

Tom Sandford, Director, RCN England said: 'Nurses from across the region are protesting today because they are angry that the Government is asking them to work longer, pay more into their pensions, and ultimately get a lower pension in return. And while they fully appreciate that in the current economic context, the Government has to take difficult financial decisions, it is simply not true to say that nurses have not already made significant concessions to help balance the public finances. For example, our members have already accepted a two year pay freeze. And in 2008, nurses also agreed to pick up any increased scheme costs, in return for protecting the terms of the NHS final salary pension. But the Government's latest proposals will potentially see some nurses pay 50% more into their pension, while raising their retirement age to 68, and still leaving them with a less generous pension in the end. For our members, frankly this is a step too far.'

Jeff Brice, President of the FDA said; 'For the first time in its 92 year history FDA members will be taking part in a national dispute. My members voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action because they are very angry both with the threat to their pensions and the manner in which the government has approached negotiations. The FDA has been in negotiations since early spring yet it was not until the second week in October that scheme costings were provided; these are a prerequisite to any meaningful discussions on the pension proposals. Government negotiators are still unable to provide the detail of the so called concessions announced by Danny Alexander after unions had taken the decision to ballot. The imposition of CPI as the pensions up-rating mechanism will reduce the value of every public servant's pension by at least 15%. And the imposition of contribution increases from April 2012 has nothing to do with the long-term pension arrangements; this is nothing more than a tax on public servants. The FDA wants to negotiate a sustainable pension scheme that is fair to members and fair to the taxpayer. But the government negotiators will have to move away from imposition and ineptitude if this is to happen.'

Notes to Editors

Newcastle-Gateshead Pensions Justice March and Rally Logistics

Assembly - Gateshead Civic Centre Car Park - from 10.30 am on November

Unions will assemble in individual union blocks.
Temporary toilet facilities will be located in the car park.
Coaches and / or cars will be able to drop marchers off at the entrance to the car park, but will not be able to enter or park there.

Please note there will be no Metro services running on that day.

Depart from Gateshead Civic Centre at approximately 11.30am

The march will then take the following route:

Gateshead Civic Centre - Car Park
Arthur Street
High West Street
West Street
Askew Road
Hills Street
Bottle Bank
Bridge Street
Swing Bridge
Sandhill around Guildhall
Newcastle Quayside
Mariners Wharf
Ouseburn Barrage
Spillers Wharf

The total distance is just over two miles and should take approximately one hour.

The march should arrive in Spillers Wharf from about 12.30pm to 1pm.

We have secured sole use of the Spillers Wharf site with support from the local authority. There will also be adequate toilet facilities and some refreshment stalls on-site. In addition we are hoping to secure some small fairground rides as we expect a number of children to be present. 'Lost Persons' arrangements will be put in place on the day, with designated stewards.

We are also in the process of organising some music performances both on site and along the route.

Coach and car parking will be available at the east end of Spillers Wharf. No traffic, however, will be allowed back along toward the quayside until the march and rally has fully dispersed.

For participants with disabilities or who for whatever reason feel they would wish to not complete the whole route, there will be an assembly point at Wesley Square on the quayside (just a couple of hundred yards west of the Pitcher and Piano).

Commuters in the vicinity of the march route and rally location may face delays.

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-There are 4 regional march and rallies happening across the northern region on 30th November: Newcastle/Gateshead, Middlesbrough, Carlisle and Whitehaven. For further information please visit:

http://www.tuc.org.uk/industrial/tuc-20283-f0.cfm?regional=3

Most public sector pensions in payment are less than £5,600 a year (£3,000 in local government).

Only 1 in 3 private sector workers has access to an employer-backed pension scheme.

Cutting public sector pensions will not make anyone's pension in the private sector any better.

Unions have spent hours in talks over the spring and summer with ministers and their officials, but there has yet to be any real negotiation. Unions are taking action as the only way to start to get ministers to negotiate properly.

Despite what the Government says, public sector pensions are affordable.

None of the savings that the govt intends to make are going back into low-paid workers' pensions, public sector workers are quite simply being made to pay for the deficit - caused by reckless speculators.

- Northern TUC press releases www.tuc.org.uk/northern national releases www.tuc.org.uk and www.twitter.com/tucnews

- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet

- For TUC advice and information on the world of work www.workSMART.org.uk

Media contacts:

Kevin Rowan, Northern TUC Regional Secretary T: 0191 227 5565; M: 07766250074; E: krowan@tuc.org.uk

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