Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Workers not fooled by the Government's dodgy data

Public sector employees have been left with no alternative but to strike over pensions, says Jimmy Kelly

When the people of Northern Ireland see the facts about public sector pensions - not the myths, or the spin - we in Unite the Union think they will be firmly on the side of public sector workers.

Trade unions are seven times more trusted than politicians when it comes to the facts about the affordability of public sector pensions, according to a recent poll by Survation of a sample of voters.

This result came as no surprise to Unite the Union after the Government attempted to pull the wool over everyone's eyes on pensions earlier this month.

The Government claimed their latest proposals would protect people who are 10 years or fewer away from retirement. It even said some workers would be better off.

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said a nurse retiring while earning £34,200 a year would receive a pension of £22,800 a year under the new scheme - compared to only £17,300 a year under the current arrangements.

Mr Alexander forgot to mention that a typical public sector worker can expect to survive on a pension of just £5,600 a year.

But when Unite the Union's pension experts analysed his figures, they found he was comparing a nurse working for 43 years and retiring at 68 in the proposed scheme with a nurse working for 35 years and retiring at 60 in the current.

In other words, Danny Alexander conveniently forgot to mention the nurse would have to work eight extra years and pay roughly £1,000-a-year more in contributions for a pension they would receive for eight fewer years in retirement.

Mr Alexander also failed to explain that the new scheme could see a typical pensioner losing purchasing power by as much as 11%, as the Government wants to index pensions to the lower Consumer Price Index (CPI) measure of inflation.

Pensions are a complicated subject and the Government seems to be hoping it can mislead the public with dodgy data.

But Survation's poll shows people are not fooled - less than 10% of people believed a typical public sector pension is "gold-plated".

People are wiser than the Government thinks. They may not know all the details, but - because there are 12 million members of public sector pension schemes - everyone has either a direct or an indirect way of finding out the truth.

Danny Alexander used an example based on someone working full-time for every year possible and retiring at the top of their grade.

Most retired NHS workers do not get anywhere near either of the pension figures for the nurse mentioned by Mr Alexander.

And yet the Government's proposals would make public sector workers pay more, work longer - and get less. It is no wonder all unions with public sector members have seen overwhelming votes in favour of taking industrial action on Wednesday to defend their pensions.

Unite the Union has a very large membership in the public sector, but we are also the largest union in the private sector - and we believe that, by defending what one group of workers has won, we will help prevent a race to the bottom.

Yes, our members will be striking, but they have thought long and hard about this and tried to get the Government to listen - tried, in vain, to get it to come clean on its plans for the public sector.

So, if there is a rally, or a picket-line, in your area on Wednesday, please show your support.

This Wednesday will be a defining moment for public services in this country. If we value them and want them to endure for generations to come, we must give the workers of today our support.

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