Tuesday, March 28, 2006

First of many?

News of the day is obviously about the national strike of around 1.5 million public sector workers over the governments decision to remove their right to 'Rule 85' and early retirement.

Now let's just talk for a minute about dangerous precedents shall we? We seem to hear the phrase banded about all over the place as a way of interrupting an argument before it's even begun - voluntary ID cards, set a dangerous precedent, religious hate laws set a dangerous precedent, but then it often seems that nothing comes of them, or that they can't be proved either way anyway.

When the government promised to keep Rule 85 for civil servants, teachers, the police etc. they absolutely set a dangerous precedent which has now come back to bite them on the arse. Sir Digby Jones may think that the current strikes are "a disgrace", (BBC NEWS) but what seems like more a disgrace is the fact that the government is telling one part of it's workers that they can retire early, and another section that they can't. Quite simply, that's not on; it was obvious that this move was going to cause friction from the off, and it was equally obvious that whilst the government might be able to calm some sectors with the promise of early retirement, that they could not do it to all of them. I can't help but think that it smacks of short-termism - placate one sector at the cost of enraging another just a few months down the line.

The problem of course is that whilst the government is wrong to treat some of it's workers differently to the others, it is entirely right in saying that not everyone it employs can retire at sixty - not in the current pensions environment where it all looks like we'll be working to 70ish and millions may face a rather uncomfortable penny-pinching existence. It has to draw a line somewhere and say that early retirement is not an option, and wherever that line is is likely to be a hotly divisive and bitter place. But seriously, drawing that line between your own workers? What were they thinking? Did they really think that people were going to accept this and not complain?

I really hope they didn't, and that there's some sort of hidden grand-plan behind all of this, because unless the government gets it's head around the current pension "crisis" and sees it for the massive issue that it is (and realises that a line cannot be drawn arbitrarily between those who can retire early and those who can't), today's pensions strike is going to go down in history as the beginning of the storm than a quick shower which was weathered and quickly forgotten.


Bob Piper said...

The Government has always had different entitlement rules for different public sector workers. In the NHS pension scheme I think you'll find workers have a 'right' to retire at 60. In local government it is an 'entitlement', not a right. If local government workers meet the Rule of 85 they do not have an actuarial reduction. Fire and police, for instance, have always had different rules, as have teachers. I do agree there was a short-termism about last year's decision to adjourn the decision for 'further talks' - which can be broadly interpreted as 'until after the general election.

chris said...

First of many? Yes, simply because the government cannot afford any these pensions. They picked to softest, and least vital, target first. But eventually all public servant pensions are going to have to be dealt with including their own. I can only hope when that one comes around it will cause a strike of MPs.