By Maximilian Clarke
The UK is preparing for the ‘biggest strikes in a generation’ as public sector workers from across the country are preparing to down tools in defence of their pensions.
As many as 2 million are purported to be walking out on Wednesday (30th November), labelling the highly damaging strikes at a time of economic fragility as a justifiable evil to prevent the 'triple assault' on their pensions that will see all government workers pay more and get less than their current arrangement.
Still others have condemned the strikes at so sensitive a moment for the UK economy as irresponsible, arguing that the changes are the bare minimum necessary to make the system viable for future generations at a time of increasing longevity.
One business owner has opposed the strikes, labelling them 'as divisive as the August riots'. Speaking to Fresh Business Thinking, Austin Pickles, founder of the 'Buxton Pickles' clothing line, issued the following diatribe:
"If ever there was a time to face reality than this is it. There is no room for sentiment and certainly no room to be fighting for something we simply cannot afford.
"The threat of strike action over generous pension schemes has left me fuming. Why? Because I have watched my team voluntarily agree to a pay-cut and a reduction in hours in 2009 to help see us through the recession.
"We have the means to stage a recovery but it can only be done with teamwork — the back bone of any economy. It can only be done if we are all willing to shoulder the burden together. I understand times are worrying and that people are facing losing privileges which were once taken for granted. But it’s jobs, basic livelihoods that we should be thinking about.
"We need to be thinking about the bigger picture. The summer riots were all about greed and selfishness and this is just as divisive, if not more so, because they should be setting a better example.
"I hear the public sector’s grievance loud and clear. The government wants them to work longer, pay more into their pensions and then get less. How dare they? How dare they when it’s something the private sector have had to accept along with many more sacrifices in the hope that it will secure a healthy economic future.
"How dare they when there simply is not the money there to fund the rosy alternative the public sector seems to think we can find the cash for from thin air. How dare they indeed? Because the stark truth of the matter is the Public Sector Commission Review stated very clearly that the status quo is not an option, so what are we to do?
"The private sector retirement age is going up to 66 for men and women, why shouldn't public sector workers retire at the same time? And show me a private sector worker who wouldn't snap your hand off for a 2/3rds career average pension? Final salary deals are almost extinct in the private sector because they are impossible to sustain. People of retirement age live much longer. Sorry, but that means final salary pension schemes are now a luxury — not an essential.
"In this climate how can striking and causing chaos for taxpayers who would fund luxuries they could never take for granted be deemed acceptable? The taxpayers who, as figures have shown already, earn less than their counterparts in the public sector. I can see it is very annoying to see your pay or pension under threat but let’s not forget two years ago when the private sector took an unprecedented hammering.
"The market forced us to make changes, increase efficiency, cut spending. There was NO choice. The economy shrank and businesses - tax paying enterprising businesses employing millions of private sector workers - were under threat from every angle. Credit was withdrawn as banks closed their ears and opened their eyes to their own internal turmoil. The markets we had sold into for years shrank or disappeared.
"So did over one million workers threaten strikes? Did someone throw these businesses a life line and let them carry on borrowing money to fund unsustainable packages for their incredibly hardworking loyal staff? No — we didn’t even get help with the basics, never mind the luxuries. The private sector had to get out of its own debt (and then it has to pay increased taxes to get the public sector out of its own overborrowed position).
"Private businesses like Buxton Pickles who employ the majority of workers in the economy took a serious look and talked to their teams.
"We had 12 people in our company and asked five of them to work three day- weeks and everyone else took a 10-20 per cent pay cut. It was optional at that time in a bid to give us a means of survival. EVERY SINGLE PERSON AGREED. They could see that the only way to survive was by pulling together.
"It’s about team work. It’s not about shouting, threatening aggressive action, smashing shops up, hurling abuse. It’s not about bullying the government by taking a swipe at our children’s education or our nation's health. It’s about working together, synergy, support and loyalty.
"I have the best team in the world and I know other companies were not so single minded. But most were.
"The public and private sectors desperately need each other. I love the fact we have the best National Health Service and Social Welfare System in the world. I am proud to pay my taxes and make my contribution. But I hate the inefficiencies and the disparities within parts of the public sector that need reform."
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