July 13, 2024

Public Workers Strike in Britain Over Pensions

Many schools were operating with skeleton staffs; some were shut altogether. Lectures and classes were canceled at an estimated 75 universities. Numerous government services were affected, including ports and airports, where up to 14,000 staff members of the agency that handles immigration and customs matters were due to walk out.

Other agencies, like the court system, social security benefits offices and unemployment centers had contingency plans to keep going, but might have to offer reduced service with managers taking the jobs of union workers, the government said.

The unions estimated that as many as 750,000 people would join the walkout.

The strike is the latest development in an increasingly bitter dispute between the affected unions — including the National Union of Teachers, the Public and Commercial Services Union, and the University and College Union — and the Conservative-led coalition government.

The government, whose austerity budget is beginning to take affect around the country, says that the current pension system is unsustainable and unaffordable. It has raised the working age and is now proposing that workers should pay a larger proportion of their salaries into their pension plans each month. The government has also proposed recalculating pensions so that they will be based not on a worker’s final salary, but on a “career average” salary, taking into account the worker’s entire working life.

Most workers can currently begin receiving their pensions at 60. One of the proposals being considered would see the age rise to 66 by 2020.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of Trades Union Congress, which represents many of Britain’s unions, said that the strikes were being held in large part by the deep public sector cuts already imposed by the government.

“Nobody wants to see our schools and job centers closed,” he told reporters. “But our resolve is strong, our determination is absolute and we will see this through until we reach a just and fair settlement.”

Francis Maude, the government minister in charge of pension policy, said since talks between the government and the unions were still going on, it was unacceptable for the teachers in particular to go on strike.

“It’s absolutely unjustifiable for parents up and down the country to be inconvenienced like this, forced to lose a day’s work, when they’re trying to go out to work to earn money to pay the taxes which are going to support teachers’ pensions,” he told the BBC.

Dave Prentis, leader of Unison, which has 1.3 million members and is Britain’s largest public-sector union, said that he had not yet balloted his members about going on strike. But he warned the government that that could change if they continued to be “treated with disdain.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=eedcf3d6b41bd97740e3e8bacad48904

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