As I type, I am currently making plans at work to cover my absence on Wednesday when I, and most of my colleagues, will be out on strike. In a previous blog entry in June, I had mentioned this as a possibility, and, indeed, there was a strike ballot and I voted in favour.
Four of my colleagues have moved on recently, so, because of the recruitment freeze, I am now doing three jobs. We have not had a pay rise for three years. Many positions, including mine, are due to disappear over the next year or so. And now the government have decided that the deficit is all our fault and we’ve got to pay for it, either by losing large chunks of our pensions, or pulling out of the scheme completely. And they wonder why morale is low.
But, I hear many of you say, things are much worse for the private sector. Indeed they are! Only a third of private sector workers have made provision for their retirement – a frightening figure. But instead of wanting everyone to ensure that we are all suffering equally, does it not make sense to raise the private sector levels of pensions? Maybe some sort of compulsory insurance scheme? There were all-party talks last year about the future funding of elderly health care until the Tories pulled out. I would like to see these resumed.
Over the weekend, we’ve seen stories about how the improved offer will be withdrawn unless we play ball. However, I am not sure if this ‘offer’ has actually been made – which does make it difficult to accept. Presumably a government PR game for the benefit of the media.
One disappointing aspect of the whole saga was the turnout for the strike ballot. Only 29% of Unison members could be bothered to vote in a free postal vote. This gives ammunition to those amongst the Tories who are advocating passing a law to say that strikes are only valid if a majority of the members approve it (as opposed to a majority of the voters) which would effectively outlaw strikes forever.
This measure presumes that those who have not voted must therefore be voting against a strike – and I would be concerned about any electoral method where the views of those who didn’t vote are counted one way. Introducing strike ballots was one of the few good ideas of the Thatcher government – but even she did not go this far.
On top of this, some in the Conservative party are advocating methods by which it would be easier to offload people, such as ending maternity cover and limiting access to tribunals. Although Vince Cable and Danny Alexander are wrong about the pensions dispute, at least one can be glad Liberal Democrats are in the government to attempt to keep such daft ideas at bay. At a time of high unemployment, reducing the rights of workers is not what is needed.
Research shows that productivity is highest when employees are happiest - not when they are constantly in fear of unemployment. And, in difficult times, we need greater productivity.
So there is much at stake in this dispute. The government, the media, even the opposition parties, are all joining in the campaign to make the public sector workers into the villains – but trust me, folks. Nurses, teachers, dinner ladies, office workers and so on - we are the good guys! And, as I said in June, much of the public sector is ‘magic’.