Brendan Barber on public sector pensions debate

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date: 14 September 2011

embargo: For immediate release


This has been a long debate, but a united debate and rightly so. When the pensions security of six million hard working decent public service workers are at stake, it is crucial that we stand together.

In our campaign so far we have demolished so many of the myths that the government has propagated on this issue.

They've said the system is unaffordable, but even John Hutton's report and the OBR have confirmed that, because of the major changes agreed only a few years ago, the costs are already set to fall not to rise in the decades ahead.

They've talked about so called 'gold-plated' pensions - a fallacy that has been comprehensively rebutted by John Hutton's report and is an insult to the millions of low paid public servants retiring on less that £4,000 a year. Meanwhile FTSE 100 directors continue to accumulate pension pots of millions. All in it together - I don't think so.

They've sought to use John Hutton's report as an alibi for their arbitrary decision to impose contribution increases of over three per cent on members across the schemes, when his report does not recommend such increases. This is the government, pure and simple, seeking to impose in effect an extra tax on public servants to contribute to meeting the government's deficit reduction targets, with nothing to do with the long term sustainability of the schemes. And they talk about negotiations being the way forward rather than unions taking action.

Let me be clear that is overwhelmingly my preferred course. I know how difficult it is for low paid workers already hit with an unjust pay freeze and fearful for their jobs to face the loss of income when they support a strike. Reasonable people instinctively prefer the idea of fair-minded negotiation rather than bloody-minded conflict, and dedicated public servants care passionately about maintaining the vital services that they deliver in their own communities, and they never take action lightly. And, of course, we need wider public support - and we're winning that support - to put the government under growing pressure to move.

But meaningful negotiations require two willing partners. And where was the negotiation before the Chancellor stood up in the House of Commons on October 20 and completely out of the blue announced the savings target and the three per cent plus contribution increases. Answer, there was none.

And where was the negotiation before he announced in last year's Budget the change in indexation from RPI to CPI, at a stroke wiping away 15 per cent of the value of the pension of every nurse, every teacher, every local authority home help and care worker, every civil servant, every firefighter. Answer, there was none.

And where is the information, repeatedly asked for by union negotiators, on scheme valuation, and demographic data for example - the essential information without which no negotiator can fairly weigh up the options and the choices. Answer, there has been none.

Congress, I remain fully committed to exhausting every possible negotiating opportunity to resolve this issue without the need for further, widespread industrial action, and we will be meeting ministers again next week, engaging in good faith in an effort to find a way forward. But ministers have to come to the table with new ideas, and in a new spirit, to give those talks a chance to succeed. But if those talks cannot make a breakthrough unions are right and fully justified to plan for action.

So Congress, I have asked all public service unions to come together after the close of Congress this morning to be updated on those negotiations but also to consider together the next steps in our campaign for fairness including co-ordinated industrial action, if those negotiations do not yield a settlement.

This morning's debate has shown immense unity of purpose. We may yet need to show that unity in further action, and let no one doubt that our resolve and determination to win fairness and justice is absolute. Support the composite.


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