Amongst their many attacks on workers, the Tory government are attempting to undermine public sector pensions. The labour movement leaders must organise a coordinated militant campaign to force a retreat.
The Tories recently pushed through a set of regulations imposing a £95,000 cap on exit payments from the public sector.
Ostensibly, this is meant to put an end to very senior council officers and others receiving huge redundancy and pension payouts when they retire.
However, the level that the Tories have set the cap will affect workers who have been in the public sector for a long time, but who could still be earning only £24,000 a year. This level is less than the average wage in Britain – approximately £30,800 a year, as of April 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The changes will, for example, affect local government workers who are made redundant after the age of 55. Under the terms of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) they are entitled to their full pension (without actuarial reduction), which costs the LGPS additional money.
The regulations are quite draconian in their scope, affecting all public sector workers. The Tories have pushed through the proposals despite objections from all the opposition parties and the unions.
At the present time, pension and redundancy regulations in the different sections of the public sector determine what someone is entitled to receive if they retire or get made redundant. Essentially, these new regulations cut through all of that.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government is currently drawing up proposals to cut exit payments for everyone in local government.
Workers – who pay into their pensions every month – will be incensed by these proposals. In the case of local government workers, their pension scheme has already been changed twice in recent years. Most recently, the ‘final salary pension scheme’ was replaced by a ‘career average’ scheme, which has had an impact on the majority of members.
Those currently facing redundancy, expecting to leave work, are now being faced with an awful dilemma. Some are reportedly having to choose between taking their pension at this stage or receiving redundancy payments. The new regulations are potentially due to come into force in a matter of weeks.
Unison and other unions have been quick to get the word out to branches about the exit cap regulations. But the question has to be asked: why has so little been done to campaign against this in the five years since the Tories first floated the proposals?
If ever there was an issue that required militant, national coordinated action on behalf of the trade unions, this has to be it!
Essentially, if the government can ride roughshod over nationally agreed pension regulations and statutory redundancy regulations in the public sector, it doesn’t take a genius to anticipate private sector employers eyeing up their own employee pension schemes.
The truth is that the Tories are using this as a blunt instrument to hack away at workers’ rights. This is one of the many ways that the ruling class are attempting to make workers pay for the ongoing crisis of capitalism.
In 2011, coordinated strikes over the public sector pensions dispute involved the largest single day of industrial action in Britain since 1926. But this fell apart after the different unions peeled off to discuss the implications in their own sectors.
Similarly, today, the imposition of the exit cap could have united all of the public sector unions around a single issue.
The truth is that the lack of leadership on this question has invited draconian measures from the Tories. This issue has to be given prominence in the Unison general secretary election (with voting opening tomorrow) and across the public sector.
A coordinated national campaign, backed up by strike action, could force the Tories to withdraw these regulations.
This isn’t about ‘gold plated pensions for town hall fat cats’, as right-wing politicians and media commentators suggest. It’s an attack on teachers, nurses, social workers, housing officers, and thousands of other workers who have already borne the brunt of Tory wage freezes on public sector pay.
In many cases, those affected by this latest measure are the same workers who have been in the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is also an important reason to ensure that we elect fighting, socialist leaders in the trade union movement and in the Labour Party. These attacks are a dramatic reminder of what happens if we don’t.