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Why I don’t agree with today’s strike

30 June 2011 by superlative

I realise that this post will probably attract some negative comments. It seems that the only position you are allowed to adopt is the most left-wing one available, otherwise you are excoriated for being immoral or selfish. But I actually think my view on this strike – and yes public sector pensions is an issue that does affect me – is selfless rather than selfish.

I do not agree with the strike being held by several public sector unions today over changes to the pension schemes of their members.

My basic reason for disagreeing with it is that I do not believe that public sector pensions should be subsidised by the tax payer. In the past when public sector workers were on average paid less than in the private sector, I could maybe see an argument for it as an adjustment to their overall remuneration. But that is no longer the case. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, pay is marginally better now in the public sector in most regions apart from London. Why then should public sector workers get more out of their pension pot than the value of the investment they have put into it? And why should public sector workers receive a better pension than those in the private sector?

On top of that, many of the people who are striking today are not the poorest public sector workers. Unison, which represents many of the lowest paid workers, is not on strike. Rather it is teachers and civil servants who are on strike, and generally they earn pretty well. They are in a better position to make provision for their retirement, so why should their pension be subsidised? It just doesn’t seem fair to me.

Often one of the arguments made by today’s striking unions is that the need for stringency is due to the financial crash – they generally throw in the words bankers and bonuses somewhere as these are now to be universally condemned – and why should public sector workers pick up the tab for that? I don’t really buy that argument. I acknowledge completely that the problems with our public finances have exacerbated the pension situation; if the government was running a large surplus, they may not care so much about reforming pensions at the moment, or they may be able to do so much more slowly and lessen the impact. But the root of the problem with our pensions is demographic. People are living longer than they were when the pension schemes were set up, and that makes them more expensive. This will only continue to get worse, and so I do see that there is a need for reform.

The unions also argue that people have entered jobs and professions partly because of the pension that comes with it. This may be true. Personally I don’t know anyone who genuinely did so; I think people typically look at the salary and the job when they’re starting out in a profession, and don’t think about the pension until a bit later. But it may be true for some people, even if I haven’t met any. So on this point, even though I still think reform is needed, I can see that it is harsh to be promised a reward and then have that taken away later. For me this is a question of how the reforms are introduced and over what time period, and it is here that negotiation and agreement are needed. I do see that the transition must be carefully managed and that workers and their unions should be involved in deciding how that happens. It does not mean that reform is not necessary, but I concede that people feel aggrieved when a deal gets changed later and gets changed unilaterally.

From a personal point of view, the proposed changes would mean that I need to pay more into my pension. I am just as affected by this as other people in the public sector, so I feel entitled to comment. My partner is a teacher, and it therefore affects him too. Neither of us think that our friends’ children should inherit an ever-increasing bill to subsidise our retirement, not if we are given enough time to take account of it and make appropriate arrangements.

That may be called a right-wing point of view, an attack on public sector workers, a selfish Tory attitude. I disagree. This is my pension, and I will be the one that benefits from it. But I do not ask for or expect anything from anyone else. This is my pension, for me, and I should pay for it.


6 Comments »

  1. Maff says:

    I shouldn’t really comment as I don’t fully understand when people start talking about money and politics and such. But your point of view does sound perfectly valid and I support your post and your opinion.

    It seems that they’re striking over nothing. If they were striking over the axing of their pension – it’d be a different story, but some of them (apparently) will be better off.

    I guess it brings up the whole thing in me that hates striking. I’m not in a union, nor have I ever been, but I still think that if you accept a job offer – you do your job. If I went on strike, they’d fire me and find someone better to do my job, and rightly so. If I don’t like it – I’m free to hand in my notice at any time. But I’m wandering into a minefield here, so i’ll stop.

    It does annoy me though that they are striking over this, when ultimately it’ll be me out of pocket. I don’t have a private pension. I can barely afford my rent let alone savings or any kind of contribution. I’m not allowed a pension at work as I’m not deemed important enough. When I retire at 90, the age they’ll have raised it to by then, I’ll be on a pitiful state pension that’ll barely cover a tin of beans each week. What can I do about THAT? Strike? Nope… just tough luck.

    Actually, I’ll be dead long before retirement age, so I don’t have to worry about it – but it still sticks in my craw.

  2. superlative says:

    Strikes can be necessary sometimes, but I think they can be overused. Especially by the RMT.

    That’s a shame you can’t afford a pension yet. Do start one as soon as you can afford one, even if you only pay a little bit in each month. Starting early and paying small amounts pays back MUCH more at the end than starting late and paying more. Compound interest and all that. See if you can afford it at 30 maybe?

    I don’t know why I’m giving you pensions advice. How dull of me.

  3. Edward Upton says:

    I think you expected some Union types on here, ranting about the iniquity of their lot, but I’m totally agreed with you.

    Of course teachers need good compensation for their job, but pensions are a hidden cost for the taxpayer that needs to be unbundled.

    Currently about £1 gets spent on pensions for every £3 spend on current salaries. If we don’t change this, that will rise 50:50 over the next 25 years.

    If we just paid teachers 10% more, and part of that went into a defined benefit scheme, I expect everyone would be a lot happier.

    Plus there are frankly cheaper ways to support teachers and make their job more enjoyable, with good teaching resources or less bureaucracy.

  4. superlative says:

    I wouldn’t mind at all if some of the outlay was shifted from pensions to salaries. At least that would be transparent, and then it would be up to employees if they put that money back into a pension pot or not.

  5. simon says:

    Excellent thoughts, I wish more people were of this mindset; considered, honest, objective, fair.

  6. Chris says:

    Hi, thank you for some common sense, you seemed to have summed up how I was feeling, in a greater way than I could have.

    I was midway through watching question time, a mixture of labour and public sector rhetoric was winding me up. Therefore I decided to find someone with a similar point of view.

    One thing I think is wrong is the way the private sector is always referred to as having higher wages this is clearly untrue for the majority. They must think all of us are bankers.

    The fact remains that even with the proposed 3% cut, their penions will still be on average around 5% higher than the average private sector pensions I believe.

    It times of austerity such as these the country should pull together, and people should make small sacrifices for the good of everyone.

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