TUC Conference update: Unions predict major industrial action over pensions

Unions have threatened strike action ‘on a scale never seen before’ against employers who cut their workers’ pension schemes.

Speaking at the TUC annual conference in Liverpool, private and public sector unions united to warn employers and the government that “economically illiterate” cuts to pension schemes would be met by intense industrial action and would slow economic recovery.

The TUC called for a campaign to promote defined benefit pension schemes – holding public sector schemes up as the model of best practice – and for unions to counter employers’ attempt to use the recession as an excuse to cut pension provisions, while offering support to those forced into industrial action to defend their pensions.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union told the Congress: “We have fought a long and hard fight for pension rights and now they are under attack. We are not willing to see the clock turned back and we will fight to defend our pension rights if that’s what is required.

“We will fight to defend pensions in the private and public sectors and we will build a movement of the like which they have never seen.”

Hugh Lanning, deputy general secretary at the civil service union PCS, added pensions would “be a battleground in the future” and unions must act as they did in 2005 when they used the threat of a 24-hour strike to secure the public sector pensions agreement.

He said: “In 2005 we showed we could do it if we worked together. When we balloted for industrial action ministers listened and we can do that again. So let’s prepare, let’s organise and make it clear that we will take action if it’s necessary.”

Meanwhile Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said the government’s pension policy was akin to a “limbo-dancing strategy” and its short-term outlook would damage recovery.

He said: “We are on the edge of disaster on pension provision in this country. In a word to Gordon Brown do not go down the short-term route of following Cameron in attacking workers’ pension schemes in private or public sectors. Those cutbacks will damage any recovery.”

Research by the Association of Accounting Actuaries found 87% of defined pension schemes have now been closed to new members, while 18% have been closed entirely.

Employers including IBM, RBS and Fujitsu are already facing potential strike action from the union Unite over changes to their final salary pension schemes.

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