The largest public sector union in the United Kingdom, Unison, said its members have voted to strike to protest the coalition government’s pension reform plan, in what will likely be the biggest industrial action in the Britain since 1979.
The union has 1.1 million members – roughly three-quarters approved the strike, the remainder went against the proposal. However, two thirds of union personnel did not even bother to file a ballot.
Union rank-and-file -- who comprise everyone from nurses to garbage collectors to social workers, among many other crucial professions – will walk out on the job as of November 30.
They will be joined by members of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the work stoppage.
The decision comes despite a new offer on the table from the government on pensions which they describe as a chance of a lifetime – which, among other things, provides for a clause under which workers within ten years of retirement will see no changes to their pension income at all.
While union officials welcomed the government’s amended pension plans, they said it was not sufficient to avert a strike.
The decisive 'yes' vote in the ballot reflects the deep concern that our members have over Government ministers' proposals for their pensions,” said Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis in a statement.
Yesterday's statement in Parliament was a marked improvement on earlier proposals. But it is important to understand that the statement has to be translated into offers in the scheme specific talks. We still have had no offer in those negotiations, where such an offer can legitimately be made.
Prentis added: We support the TUC day of action on November 30, but will be negotiating right up to then and beyond to get a fair deal for our members.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude asked Unison members to reconsider a strike.
We listened to the concerns of public sector workers about their pensions and yesterday responded with a new generous settlement which is beyond the dreams of most private [sector] employees, he said, according to BBC.
Today's Unison ballot received a very low turnout - with less than a third of their members even voting - which shows there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want.”
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber cautioned there were still major areas of concern over the Government's proposals.
In response, government ministers warned that the new pension offer would be withdrawn if unions did not agree to them by the end of the year.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander told reporters: I believe this [new pension] package is affordable. I believe it is also fair, not just to public sector workers, but delivers significant long-term savings to taxpayers who will continue to make a significant contribution to their pensions. If reform along these lines is agreed, I believe that we will have a deal that can endure for at least 25 years and hopefully longer.”
Alexander added: So I hope that the trade unions will now grasp the opportunity that this new offer represents. It is the chance of a lifetime to secure good, high-quality and fair public service pensions.
According to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, many were unhappy with the latest development.
In a statement, the Public Services Liaison Group (PSLG) of unions said: All the unions have indicated throughout this process their determination to reach a negotiated settlement on all these issues. That remains the position and unions will engage intensively in the coming weeks. But unless and until further real progress is made and acceptable offers are made within those negotiations, unions remain firmly committed to continuing their preparations for the planned day of action on November 30.
On the other side of the argument, Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, lamented: Yesterday's offer from the Government was designed to avert strikes, but just one day later, it looks as though this bribe has failed. The unions have the Government over a barrel. Once you start offering concessions, when do you stop?”
Walker also said: The original reform proposals were the bare minimum needed to put public sector pensions on a sustainable footing. Yesterday's more generous offer was a bad idea and should now be taken off the table. There is no sense in carrying out half-hearted reforms now and crisis cuts in five or 10 years' time. The plain fact is that people are living longer and so public sector pensions, like any other type of pensions, need to be reformed so they can continue to be paid in the future. Ordinary taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize public sector pensioners at today's levels.