AS well as the Gate Gourmet workers’ struggle, this year’s TUC will be a battleground over pensions and privatisation.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber at his press conference on Sunday announced the publication of a TUC dossier ‘showing shocking new evidence of the depth of Britain’s pensions crisis’.
Barber said this was ‘because the employers have walked away from their pension responsibilities’.
He added: ‘Half of salary related pensions closed to new entrants in just the three years between 2000 and 2003.
‘Altogether, two thirds of final salary schemes are no longer open to new members.’
He added that a ‘new shocking pensions truth’ is that ‘just one in four employees in the private sector are now members of a work-based pension.’
Barber said: ‘Government plans to revitalise workplace pensions with stakeholders have been an abject failure. Most employers do not make any contribution to stakeholders, and even among those who do, the average contribution is just 2.2 per cent.’
Barber called for compulsory pension contributions by employers to be legislated as a ‘radical solution’ to the pensions crisis and pledged ‘this week will see the TUC step up its campaign’ for decent pensions for all and ‘a union defence of existing pensions.’
Dave Prentis, leader of the biggest public sector union, UNISON, warned his union of 1.3 million members would be balloted for strike action to defend public sector pensions, and against the EU Services Directive, if enacted.
Prentis, flanked by UNISON members of the London Ambulance Service who attended the aftermath of the July 7th bombings in London, told a Sunday press conference in Brighton: ‘Public service workers are heroes one day and forgotten about the next.
‘New Orleans was complete chaos, where the most vulnerable suffered the most.
‘We cannot allow the privatisation that happens in America happen here.
‘Pension cuts will have a large impact on workers such as those here today.
‘Many ambulance workers die before they are sixty.
‘Privatisation is bad news for our members, and bad news for those who use public services.
‘It will be chaos. If local hospitals close, A&E units will close down with them.
‘A massive issue is that the Labour government is the biggest backer of the EU Services Directive, which will undermine the Warwick agreement, and will cut pay, conditions and pensions.
‘Employment rights will be tied to the country of origin. It will drive people into poverty.
‘Tony Blair is its main champion.
‘We will not sit back and allow this directive to be enacted.
‘The idea that everything is open to the market cannot be tolerated.
‘The government must admit its mistakes – if they don’t, they will meet our opposition every inch of the way.’
Asked if that opposition meant UNISON will take strike action, Prentis said: ‘If this EU Directive is enacted it will impinge on the pay and conditions of our members and in that case we will take industrial action, we will have no choice.’
Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka said earlier at the PCS press conference: ‘The main issues at this year’s TUC for us are public sector pensions and job cuts in the public services.’
He added: ‘Our message to Congress this week is, if the government does not step back and agree it will not impose cuts on public sector pensions nor raise the retirement age, we will see dozens of unions ready to take strike action.’
Asked will that mean strike action will go ahead, he said:. ‘Well you hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
‘We are preparing t organise industrial action if that is what is needed.’
He continued that job cuts in the civil service ‘are beginning to bite’.
He added that ‘Ministry of Defence privatisation proposals will mean the loss of 10,000 jobs’ and that ‘PCS members are considering action short of strike action at the MoD’.
Accusing the Labour government of preparing to privatise Jobcentres and benefits, Serwotka revealed: ‘We have seen a restricted letter from a senior civil servant in the Department for Work and Pensions and Minister for Work Margaret Hodge, which outlines secret plans for the privatisation of the delivery of most of the services delivered by Jobcentre Plus.
‘The letter which could signal the break up of the welfare state outlines plans for a feasibility strategy to outsource the main bulk of Jobcentre work, benefit processing, fraud investigation and incapacity benefits.
‘The letter marked restricted is dated 7 July 2005 and is from Jonathan Portes DWP director of work and welfare strategy to Minister for Work Margaret Hodge. Extracts the union has seen says:
“On the labour market side we propose to take forward contestability by setting up PVS (private/voluntary sector) equivalents of BOND (building on New Deal) to new areas of Jobcentre Plus activity – WFIs (work focused interviews) and service parts of the JSA intervention regime, and the services to new client groups – lone parents, and people on receipt of incapacity benefits.
“For non-labour market areas of Jobcentre Plus business we believe that feasibility studies should be conducted to ascertain whether there might be scope for contesting or outsourcing benefit processing centres, fraud investigation services, and both jobseeker and employer contact centres.”
‘Privatising the dole was Tory policy.
‘Senior civil servants are writing to ministers. If carried out it will mean the outsourcing of tens of thousands of jobs, threatening the service to the most vulnerable people.
‘I have written to (Work and Pensions Secretary) David Blunkett asking him to stop this in its tracks.’
Asked if the PCS would be taking strike action, Serwotka replied with the non-committal formula that the PCS will ‘rule nothing out of the government goes ahead with privatising Jobcentres and benefits.’
The leader of the biggest private sector union, Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson began his press conference by referring to the fate of MG Rover workers, blithely ignoring the fact that the unions did not lift a finger to save a single job.
Simpson said: ‘More than six months after the closure, 60 per cent of the workforce are still out of work.
‘According to our survey, only 28 per cent of the 6,000 workers are employed, only 15 per cent working in manufacturing. Eleven per cent of the redundant workers are on training courses.
‘The average drop in wages for those who have found work is 15 per cent, with wages falling from nearly £23,000 a year at MG Rover to less than £8,000 in some cases.
‘Amicus represents the skilled workers, production line workers and assembly workers would be even worse off.
‘This kind of thing is happening up and down the country.
‘Well-paid, highly skilled jobs are being replaced by low-skilled, part -time and agency work.
‘Something must be done.
‘The loss of manufacturing, and now insurance and finance jobs, is cutting the heart out of the country’s economy. How can you pay for public services without these jobs?
‘The government is too complacent.’
Simpson concluded by calling for a ‘level playing field with Europe, with the extension of employment protection in the UK to that which exists in countries such as France, Germany, Belgium and Spain.’
The reformist trade union leaders identify the issues facing their members but merely ‘talk a fight’.
TUC delegates must force the TUC to take action to reinstate all the Gate Gourmet workers, and defend all jobs, wages, pensions and working conditions. Nothing less will do.