This week’s strike closed three quarters of the schools in England, saw police providing cover to the London Ambulance Service and 26,000 civil servants walk out. Unions say two million people were involved. The Prime Minister called the day a damp squib, claiming less than half that actually took action.
The strike was prompted by reforms to public sector pensions which the Government and many pension experts say are vital to ensure they are sustainable in the long-term. Union leaders say they want to reach a deal but the Government is being unreasonable and not negotiating in good faith. Money Marketing’s political reporter Steve Tolley was on the streets with the strikers to find out why they believe the reforms are unnecessary.
Ministry of Justice fines officer Patrick Wheeler (pictured) says, for him, the strike is about the Government refusing to honour contracts.
“For me personally it is a matter of honour. The Government says to us it is contractually obliged to pay massive bonuses and massive pensions pots to the directors of these banks which went under and have been carried on the taxpayer’s bill. In the same breath they say our contracts are no longer valid and that is not on. Simple as that.”
“Ministers talk in the media about these wonderful offers which will not be repeated but as I understand it they have yet to be tabled at the negotiations. They are being duplicitous about what they say in public and what they are doing in the meetings, though I have to say I did not trust the last Government either.”
“Britain in the 21st Century Britain is ruled by a 19th Century style elite. This is an ultra-conservative Government, they are very much interested in revitalising a class system where people know their place. It is a very strange situation where we have a very strange bunch in charge and I hope we get rid of them as soon as possible.”
‘K’ works for the Department for Work and Pensions but has asked us not to publish his name.
“Frankly no-one in this country, public or private sector, believe we are all in this together. The bankers who caused this problem, who appear to be friends of our leaders do not seem to suffer any sanctions for this at all. The bank levy is tiny and they will find a way around it, everybody knows that. It is disingenuous and unfair. When you add all this together is it surprising there is a good deal of bitterness around?”
“Someone in a senior position like I am, in charge of around 20,000 people, is on £75,000 a year. If I had been working for a private sector company being in charge of so many people I would have probably doubled that. But my salary was held down and that was supposed to pay for my pension.”
Sasha Elliot is a primary school teacher from Camden and membership secretary for the local National Union of Teachers chapter.
“The Government usually carries out independent valuation of the schemes every four years. It is refusing to do the one due now because it knows it will prove it is perfectly sustainable. The truth is, it is quite handy to rob them. The NUT estimate that since 1923, when the teachers pension scheme started, that £46bn has been paid in that has not been paid out, so it is quite clearly a profitable cash-cow.”
She says removing pensions is part of efforts by Education Secretary Michael Gove to fully privatise the education system using the free school and academy programmes.
“Things like teacher’s pensions are a bar to that, and this is a really good way to dismantle it. As the pension contributions go up in four years time you will have teachers starting with 40k of debt. Obviously lots will opt-out and when no-one is paying into them anymore that will make them unsustainable.”