Monday, January 24, 2011

A spring of disgruntlement? Strikes, pay and pensions in the public sector

Today the teaching union ATL announced that it would be balloting its members on industrial action over the proposed increase in teachers’ pension contributions. Meanwhile in colleges and universities UCU is doing likewise on the issues of jobs, pay and pensions.

Beyond schools, colleges and universities are we facing a spring of disgruntlement?

How will public sector unions respond to the austerity that is affecting their members’ jobs, pay and conditions?

Headlines may inflame matter when they highlight the remuneration packages of se senior management. The Daily Telegraph this weekend reported on pay rises enjoyed by university vice chancellors. (The paper’s survey found that three-quarters of vice chancellors saw pay packages, including salary, pensions and other benefits, increase during the year to August 2010. Eleven of the 87 surveyed benefited from rises of more than 10 per cent.)

The issue of pensions is likely to be a highly sensitive one. The Hutton Commission final report on public sector pensions is due in March 2011. The exact date has not been published but the 2011 Budget is on Wednesday March 23 – this would be an obvious candidate. The final report is likely to recommend pension entitlements based on a career average salary rather than “final salary”.

Public sector pensions are not “gold-plated” but public sector pension schemes do give workers a certainty about the timing of retirement and a level of entitlements that most private sector workers lack. I suspect that not all public sector workers recognise the full value of their pension schemes. Unions have not mobilised against the change in inflation indexation introduced last year. However, the increased pension contributions likely to kick in across the public sector from 2012 will be harder to swallow - as seen in the case of ATL members in schools - when pay is frozen for most of the public sector. Whether unions will enjoy public sympathy is another issue.

No comments: