18/02/2005

Unions protest over public sector pension changes

Thousands of people are expected to take part in protests against public sector pension changes across the country today.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is co-ordinating the countrywide action, as part of the 'Protecting Public Services Campaign Day'. The TUC said that much of the action would focus on meetings with local MPs or lobbies of their constituency surgeries.

Thousands of public sector workers, from schools, colleges, fire stations, government departments, local authorities and the prison service, are expected to take part, showing their opposition to proposed pension changes and the proposal to increase the sector's retirement age to 65.

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "Cuts in pension provision are the same as a pay cut. The Government’s attempt to raise retirement ages across the seven million who work in the public sector must add up to the biggest ever pensions change."

He added: "We are against ‘work ‘til you drop’ policies. For those in heavy manual work or others with stressful and demanding jobs in fields such as air traffic control or north sea fishery protection, or for those whose work brings them into contact with members of the public in the health and social services, it will simply be impossible or lead to ill health and even shorter lives.

Mr Barber also said that reducing the pension provision would affect morale and staff retention rates.

Today's protests will involve members from a number of unions, including the Public and Communication Services union (PCS) and UNISON. PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka said: "Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers are effectively having their contracts with their futures torn up in front of their eyes by the government as they force through the pension age rise. Today is an opportunity to push home the message to the government, the politicians and the public that public servants won't sit idly by and allow forced changes to their pension, they won't tolerate having to work until they drop to receive their pension and they won't put up with being denied real choices about their future."

A number of unions and employers met with Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, yesterday for talks aimed at preventing a major strike over the pensions issue on March 23. However, the talks ended after four hours, without an agreement being reached.

UNISON have said that they will ballot their 800,000 members in England, Scotland and Wales about possible strike action on March 9. A number of unions, including the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) and Amicus, are also set to ballot their workers about a possible strike, which would take place on March 23.

Commenting on the possible strike, UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, said: “It will be a sad day for local government if the strike action goes ahead. With goodwill on all sides this dispute could still be settled."

(KMcA/SP)

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