British public sector workers feel as if they are in a hold-up, hearing “your money or your life!” over pension reforms.
They say the government’s proposal to lengthen their working lives while taking more off paychecks is just not right.
At University College London, half the staff joined the strike, including former bus driver, now a lecturer, Simon Renton: “Work we have already done is now having some of its pay tugged away, which is very close to theft, if not actually literally theft. But this is part of a much wider package of moves by the current government —supported unfortunately largely by our employers— to attack, undermine, reduce the funding of public services across the country.”
Downing Street calls the current model ‘unsustainable’. Unions say the reform would make people work longer, earn less and pay more for worse pensions. The prime minister said this is about being fair, and is really not so bad.
According to David Cameron: “A teacher, retiring on a salary of 37,000 pounds, would have got 19,000 pounds, will now get 25,000 pounds. These are fair changes, and I’ll tell you why they are fair: we rejected the idea you should level down public-sector pensions, we think public sector pensions should be generous, but as people live longer it is only right and only fair that they should make greater contributions.”
The strikers object to the government’s plans to use pension investment for big building projects to help boost an economy, bitten by the euro zone crisis, by sapping public sector wage power.
Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of UNISON, Britain and Europe’s biggest public sector union, said: “One of the issues, and there are many, is around the contribution increase. Public service workers – nurses, paramedics, community workers, dinner-ladies… they’re being asked to pay 50% more into the pension scheme. It’s a 3% pay cut. But none of the money goes into the pension scheme to deal with people living longer or to maintain their pensions. Every single penny — three billion pounds — is taken out of the pension scheme and handed over to the Treasury so that they can deal with the deficit caused by the banks and the failure of the banking system.”
Britain’s coalition has made its priority to erase a budget deficit that was still higher than 10 percent last year. Slowing growth and plunging demand from other European markets make for an even more stubborn deficit challenge.