Last-minute talks began today meant to prevent three-quarters of a million British public sector workers from walking off the job on Thursday. The teachers and civil servants are protesting proposed changes to their pension plans.
Britain’s proposed changes to its public servants pension plan will have pensions based on earnings over an entire career, as opposed to pensions based on final salaries. Employees will also be required to contribute more to their pensions and the retirement age will rise to 66.
The 24-hour walkout will involve four unions: the National Union of Teachers, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the University and College Unions, and the Public and Commercial Service Union. The strike will close government offices and schools, and could see disruption at airports.
The Conservative-led coalition government is struggling with the task of supporting an aging population while attempting to decrease spending — a challenge being felt throughout European countries.
Strikes could be called throughout the summer with other unions joining the movement. Union leaders say that strikes later this year could be the biggest since the 1926 General Strike when more than three million workers went on strike for more than nine days.
Widespread demonstrations have taken place across Britain in a sign the government is struggling to sell its policies to a population facing rising bills and a stagnant economy.
Government spending is bearing the brunt of the austerity plan to eliminate a record budget deficit, with hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs set for the axe, and paycheques frozen for two years.
Unions have long warned that pension reform could turn out to be the last straw for public sector workers — especially those on low incomes — because many feel hard done by for having to pay the price for a deficit that spiraled out of control during the financial crisis.
In an attempt to ease tensions, the government plans to protect low-paid workers from an average pension contribution increase of 3.2 per cent.
About 15 per cent of staff, earning less than £15,000 ($23,655) a year, will not have to pay anything extra into their pensions, while those earning less than £18,000 ($28,386) a year will face a capped increase of 1.5 per cent.
The government will phase in the hikes from April next year through to 2014, saving £2.8 billion. Accrued pension rights earned before the reforms will be protected.
– With files from Reuters
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