Cameron tells public sector workers strikes 'wrong'

Cameron: "It is the changes we propose that are right, right by the taxpayer but, above all, right by you."

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David Cameron has told public sector workers unhappy about their pensions that striking would be "wrong - for you, for the people you serve, for the good of the country".

The PM said reform was "essential" to stop the pensions system "going broke".

And, he added, the changes were fair to both workers and the taxpayer.

Up to 750,000 teachers and civil servants are set to strike saying that the government's plans will mean them working longer and paying more.

There was no breakthrough in talks between ministers and unions on Monday. Labour leader Ed Miliband has said strike action would be a "mistake".

'Good deal'

The government has insisted it has contingency plans in place to prevent any major disruption to essential services on Thursday but Education Secretary Michael Gove has confirmed that more than 3,000 schools in England and Wales will be forced to shut and over 2,000 partially closed as a result.

ANALYSIS

David Cameron's speech was an exercise in myth-busting, pointing out that some lower paid workers would be better off, not worse off, as a result of the proposed changes.

And that some measures were driven by our increasing longevity as a nation not short term debt.

Above all, the prime minister used the words "fair" and "fairness" prolifically.

He knows his words won't avert Thursday's strike action but he is attempting to drive a wedge between what he sees as "reasonable" and "unreasonable" unions, and between "unreasonable" union leaders and what he regards as their misinformed membership.

He's been criticised as more of a salesman than a strategist by his opponents.

But it's perhaps those sales skills the prime minister will need when telling public sector staff that working longer and contributing more to the cost of their pensions is fair.

The planned 24-hour walkout involves members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), the University and College Union and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union.

The UK Border Agency has said the PCS walkout will affect its staff working at points of entry into the UK and, while it had put contingency plans in place, "people travelling into the UK may experience delays at border control".

It said the strike would have a "different" impact at individual airports, ports and railway stations.

Speaking to the Local Government Association conference, Mr Cameron urged workers to reconsider their actions and not to believe what he said were "scare stories" about the government's proposals.

"To those considering strike action, when discussions are ongoing, I say to you these strikes are wrong, for you, for the people you serve and for the good of the country. It is the changes we propose that are right, right by the taxpayer but, above all, right by you."

He added: "The changes we propose are a good deal. They are fair for the low-paid, fair for the taxpayer. They secure affordable pensions, not just now but for decades to come. And they mean that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available."

Given workers were living longer in retirement, it was right that they should contribute more to their pensions and that the pension age should rise.

"The reason we can't go on as we are is because as the baby boomers retire, the pension system is in danger of going broke," he said.

'Nonsense'

Union leaders have said there are still major divisions between unions and the government over three key proposals - to raise the pension age, to increase workers' contributions and to link pension values to the generally lower consumer prices index (CPI) rather than the retail prices index (RPI).

MPs' pensions

  • A funded final salary scheme
  • Normal retirement age is 65, minimum age is 55
  • MPs can contribute either 11.9%, 7.9% or 5.9% of their £65,738-a-year salary
  • Payments are increased in line with the retail prices index
  • Accrual is capped at two-thirds of an MP's final salary
  • The coalition agreement included a commitment to consult with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority on "how to move away from the general final salary pension system"

"On the key issues where we are taking strike action, the government has said it won't negotiate," Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, told Radio 4's PM.

She said Mr Cameron's speech contained "half-truths and misrepresentations" and that a deal agreed in 2007 would ensure a £57bn reduction in public sector pension liabilities over the next 50 years.

"The notion that public sector pensions will go broke is nonsense. He should not have said it."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said both sides should get back round the negotiating table since public sector pensions did need to be reformed.

"We are on the side of parents and children. That is why I say these strikes would be a mistake," he said.

The strikes "should not be going ahead as they will inconvenience parents and children", he argued.

He added: "Public sector pensions do need to be reformed. But the government has to take its share of responsibility for the provocative way they have handled these negotiations."

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