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Tim Hall on pensions

Why should someone working in the private sector subsidise the pension of someone working in the public sector? For anyone involved in the campaign to defend their pensions, such a question would not be so difficult to answer if there wasn’t a substantial grain of truth in it. According to pensions expert Dr Ros Altmann the average public sector worker on £7,800 is getting from the taxpayer, the equivalent of over £200,000 for their retirement. .[i] Indeed fairness and not affordability was the cornerstone of the Hutton report in public pension reform published in March this year.  If this is the case, however, what are the central arguments of the campaign?

In the debate around this issue I have heard two arguments brought forward on a regular basis; the first is that the public sector salaries are on average much lower that private sector salaries and that pensions and other benefits compensate for this; the second is that public sector workers deserve their higher pensions for a lifetime of public service.

There is truth in both of these claims but take together they do not seem decisive. In my view the reason why public sector pensions need to be protected is that they represent benchmarks for what employee conditions could be like for the rest of society. They represent, in other words, a gold standard. Allied to this is the notion of trade unions as progressive forces in contemporary society, not simply safeguarding the interests of their membership but championing the improved terms and conditions of workers generally. The moment they lose this progressive campaigning outward-looking stance the moral authority of the argument for the defence of public sector pensions is considerably weakened.

In building towards the 30th November we need as a branch to remain engaged with other campaigns. I was involved in an unsuccessful campaign to get the externally contracted cleaning staff taken back ‘in house’. This would have given them access to pension schemes as well as other benefits.  As I write the security staff at UEL are being out-sourced. While this is wrapped up in the weasel words of improved provision the university stands to benefit considerably from the savings in pension contributions of these out-sourced workers. These campaigns have to remain our campaigns in the months to come.

Why should the private sector worker subsidise public sector pensions? Because everyone should have access to such pensions and TUs are the only progressive force in society working for this end.



One Comment

  1. jilld says:

    Funny how people on mainstream radio or TV shows never argue for private pensions to be raised to the level of public sector pensions – even the ones supposedly supporting the fight to save the current level of public sector pensions. So why should people in the private sector believe public sector pensions should be saved? That’s called divide and rule.

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