Fight ‘selfish’ unions

Representatives from the public and private sector and across the political spectrum have united in their condemnation of “selfish” strikes by trade unions.

Last week, hundreds of thousands of local government workers walked out over plans to scrap the ‘rule of 85’, which allows staff to retire at 60 if their combined age and years of service add up to 85 or more.

But CBI director-general Sir Digby Jones called the strike selfish and “trade unionism at its worst”. He said public sector workers needed to “get real” and recognise that longer life expectancies and the rising cost of providing pensions mean longer working lives.

Employers claim the cost of enabling staff to retire early would add 2% a year on every council tax bill, at a cost of 6bn over the next 15 years.

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), said scrapping the rule of 85 was essential. “Unions have made their point, but I am hoping they will now join us at the table,” he said.

The government is standing firm in the face of union pressure. Last week, it laid a statutory order before parliament, which confirms the rule of 85 will be ditched from 1 October.

Former Conservative MP Michael Portillo said the government had no option but to reduce the pensions advantages in the public sector. “The suck of people from the private sector to the public sector will be unsustainable in the coming years,” he said.

But some employers fear that industrial action will drag on for months. “Unions are really not going to lay down on this. It’s a good recruiting tool so they are not going to run out of steam,” said Terry Mc-Dougall, assistant chief executive HR at the London Borough of Hackney.

The government said talks between unions and employers could start now on a “nothing ruled in, nothing ruled out basis”. But Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, signalled his intent, calling the decision to scrap the pensions rule “provocative, premature and unnecessary”.

Dispute in numbers

  • 6bn the cost to the taxpayer over 15 years to keep the ‘rule of 85’
  • 1.5m the number of council workers that unions claimed went
    on strike
  • 400,000 the turn- out claimed by the LGA
  • 2% the predicted annual rise to council tax bills without reforms
  • 27bn the black hole in the local government pension scheme

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