Saturday, March 30, 2013

Facing Down The Unions

Impartial BBC journos off-duty

It's just like old times. The teachers are going on strike, the Post Office workers are going on strike, and even those most essential of essential workers, the BBC journalists are going on strike. The common theme? They're all employed by the public sector.

As you know, the public sector is the last bastion of British trade unionism: 60% of today's union members are employed in the sector, even though it contains only one-fifth of the workforce. And these unions will strike at the drop of a hat - even while Blair's government was busy ramping up their members' pay. 

Here's the latest version of a chart we've posted before. It shows the number of days lost to industrial action annually in the public and private sectors (the figures are rolling three year averages):

In the private sector, the number of days lost annually has fallen to around 100,000 pa, or roughly 0.004 days per employee. However, in the public sector it's running at 20 times that rate. Moreover, while private sector employees have stoically swallowed pay freezes and tougher working conditions since the Crash, public sector unions seem to think their members are entitled to same rewards as during the time of plenty. There is no acceptance that the world has changed, and hence this fresh wave of strikes.

Of course, the Coalition did impose that two year pay freeze, but as we blogged here, in reality that turned out to be a freeze in name only. Depending on how you measure it, pay increased by between 5 and 10% over the two years, and it's still increasing. Moreover, public employees are already paid getting on for 10% more than their private sector equivalents, on top of which they get those famous index-linked pensions that are simply not available elsewhere. As we estimated in the BOM book, the total reward gap could be as much as 30 to 40%. Even after recent pension reforms kick-in, it will still be well North of 20%. 

But credit where credit's due: the Coalition are certainly having a go at addressing the issue. They have reformed the public sector pension schemes to make them less generous, and although there's more to do, over time their reforms will save taxpayers some serious cash. 

And they are now tackling the issue of progression pay - the automatic annual pay increments received by a substantial proportion of public employees. Virtually unknown in the private sector, incremental scales deliver year-on-year pay rises irrespective of freezes or indeed individual performance. George says:
"We will seek substantial savings from what is called progression pay. These are the annual increases in the pay of some parts of the public sector. I think they are difficult to justify when others in the public sector, and millions more in the private sector, have seen pay frozen or even cut."
Quite right George (and yes, we do realise Chancellors have never enjoyed such increments, and you haven't had a pay rise for three years).

But it's going to be a helluva battle, with the teaching unions already launching an all-out assault on the Gove Line. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers passed a vote of no confidence in him and his Chief Inspector earlier this week, and the NUT is following suit. A protracted series of strikes looks well on the cards.

The Coalition must stay strong on this. Closing the public sector pay and pensions gap will ultimately save taxpayers at least £25bn pa. And although it will obviously be painful for public sector employees, they should understand it's a lot less painful than the Irish solution. There, public employees had to accept pay cuts averaging 15%.

PS Did anyone miss the BBC journos who went on strike last week? It should have encouraged more people to try out Sky News, and I suspect a good proportion will not return. A few more outages like that and even Mr Cam might start thinking about break-up and sale. Let's hope so. 


  1. Mr Ecks8:54 pm

    What are you talking about?.

    Annual increases in civil service pay are what people have to go through to get up to the advertised rate for the job. Have you ever started a job where they tell you you have to "progress" to the rate of pay that the job was advertised at across an indeterminate time. Decades ago it was fixed at five years to reach full pay--now it is included as part of the pay deals. Which means workers exist in a two tier structure where they spend many years on less money doing the same work as older workers who made it to full pay years ago. The whole scheme was a scam to allow the scum of the state to get years of work out of workers at a lower rate than advertised. That, in part, is how the job "security" and pensions were paid for.

    What that idiot Osbourne is about Christ knows--to say all those not on their "max"--after a lot of years in mamny cases, are not now ever going to get the rates of pay promised sounds like a breach of contract case.

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