Friday 14 October 2011

Pensions: It’s still “pay more, get less, retire older”

Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary, reported to the NUT Divisional Secretaries Briefing this morning on the latest news from the talks with Government about their plans to cut public sector pensions. 

There was clearly no point in describing these talks as ‘negotiations’ as the Government is still showing no sign of seriously negotiating an acceptable agreement. Instead, they have announced a ‘cost-ceiling’ which places such a tight budgetary strait-jacket around the schemes that there is no real room for genuine negotiation. As Kevin put it, they might as well be asking us “do you want your left arm or your left leg to be cut off ?”

The cost-ceiling has been set at 20.1% of salary – that’s an average 9.6% contribution rate for teachers (although for some it will be even more) and just 10.5% for employers. That compares to the very similar 20.5% package currently – but that’s 6.4% for teachers and 14.1% for employers.

As we have argued previously, they want workers to pay more, so that employers can pay less. That’s to help them push through public sector cuts and satisfy the privatising vultures who claim that current pension costs are too great for them to make a healthy profit.

Even if the overall cost-ceiling is little changed, the Government claims that rising costs mean that they can only afford to pay out much less on retirement. A small amount  of extra costs can be put down to increasing longevity (although how long before that trend is reversed if we’re working until we’re 70!) but a good chunk has been added by artificially changing the ‘discount rate’ to show a poorer return on the pensions contributions that sit in the Government’s coffers.

Their proposed scheme would mean no full pension until most teachers are 68 or even older, a worse ‘accrual rate’ of 1/65 (compared to 1/60 now) and pensions payments linked to the lower CPI instead of RPI. The Government claim that teachers would still earn a ‘broadly similar’ pension to the one we might get now. Well, for a start, that’s only after we’ve worked for perhaps eight more years – getting our pension at 68 instead of 60 or (for some recent starters) 65. Even then, the union’s figures suggest that the payouts would still be less – even after all those years of extra contributions.  In other words, it’s still “pay more, get less, retire older”.

The Con-Dems want to show that they are standing firm despite the rising discontent. But our pressure IS having an effect on this discredited Government. Tellingly, Kevin suggested that Michael Gove had, for the first time, hinted that perhaps there could be some ‘flexibility’ over the cost-ceiling. Now is the time to press forward and force Ministers to think again.

November 30 needs to be an even more solid strike on than we had on June 30 – hopefully this time alongside even more other public sector trade unionists. Let’s get everyone out together, every school closed by action, every town filled with mass rallies and marches.

Let’s strike together and force these robbers to get their hands off our pensions.

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