Planned strike action by up to 1.5 million public sector workers has forced the
Government to retreat on its policy of increasing their retirement age from 60
to 65. The local government and civil service unions involved in the dispute
called off the strikes scheduled for 23 March after the Government agreed to
revoke its regulations and enter into negotiations.
Alan Johnson, the Minister for Work and Pensions, said: "I recognise that there
are concerns about whether…a genuine dialogue has been able to take place…The
Prime Minister agrees and has tasked me with making a fresh start on discussions
with the trade unions. I am very clear that in those talks all aspects of the
Government's proposals will be open to discussion and negotiation." Deputy Prime
Minister John Prescott agreed to cancel changes to the local government pension
scheme that were due to be implemented on 1 April.
It is clear that the decisive majorities for action in a series of strike
ballots, along with the unions' agreement to co-ordinate action, have forced the
Government to back down, fearing the possibility of the largest strike since
1926 in the run up to the General Election.
Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis said: "Our aim throughout talks with the
Deputy Prime Minister has been to have these regulations revoked and to open
negotiations on how we can have a viable, sustainable pension scheme that will
benefit all. We have achieved both these objectives and we now look forward to
real talks on the future of the pension schemes."
Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the PCS, added: "Through our positive
campaigning and vote for industrial action, what was previously deemed as set in
stone and non-negotiable is now open for negotiation representing a hard won
change of policy by the Government. We welcome the Government's step back from
confrontation and the recognition that raising the public sector pension age
without negotiation was a step too far."
Many trades unionists will be frustrated that the strikes have been called off
and sceptical about the Government's offer to open negotiations, and will wonder
how long this spirit of reconciliation will last after the General Election. The
tactic of committing to talks on the eve of a strike, only to offer the most
marginal concessions, is hardly original. It is designed to divide members
between those who want to push ahead with action to underline the support for
our case and those who think negotiations must be exhausted first.
It is important that all the unions representing public sector workers remain
united in their resolve to defend our pension rights and stand ready to take
industrial action should the Government's newfound desire to talk dissipate in
the spring air along with the election night fireworks.