· 2 min read · News

Private sector employees oppose an autumn of public sector strikes over pensions


Unite, the largest union in the country, will ballot its 250,000 members in the public sector for industrial action in defence of public service pensions.

Unite represents workers in the NHS, local government, higher and further education, and central government departments.

But more than half of private sector workers are opposed to public sector strike action and a significant proportion are virulently opposed, according to recruitment consultants Badenoch & Clark.

The research, published this morning, shows a distinct lack of sympathy for state workers' disquiet at government reforms to their employment packages.

As wide spread public sector strike action is expected over pensions this autumn, employees in the private sector are losing patience, 56% expressing a lack of support and nearly 14% strongly opposed.

A further 15% while supportive, also say strikes will be an unnecessary inconvenience. The survey of 1,000 UK office workers shows that this sentiment is most felt by older workers aged 55+, with nearly two thirds (65%) unsupportive of future strikes. And of these, 27.3% are strongly opposed.

Nicola Linkleter, MD, Badenoch & Clark, said: "The effects of government cuts are causing a lot of dissatisfaction among public sector workers, triggering industrial action. Our research shows, however, that the public sector sentiment is not always met with a sympathetic response from their private sector counterparts. Strike action demonstrates that public sector workers feel aggrieved at their loss of benefits, but such grievances may well be viewed unsympathetically by the public at large.

"While the public sector react to cuts in their benefits packages, our research suggests that the private sector still believes they get a comparatively good deal and therefore shouldn't be kicking up a fuss. Overall, packages in the public sector are still favourable, particularly pension offerings, which tend to exceed average private sector retirement plans.

"Former public sector workers who are seeking work in the private sector will need to be realistic about the level of benefits they will be able to receive. More often than not they will be far less generous than they've been used to."

Commenting on the decision to ballot over strike action Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey said: "The union movement has taken this step with reluctance, but we have been faced with a government that refuses to negotiate in good faith. "Public sector workers, many of them lowly paid, are being relentlessly and unfairly targeted by the government. With their retirement incomes under threat, they have been pushed into a corner and are being forced to take this action. Unite has attended every negotiating session with government ministers since February, but they have been dogged by ministerial bad faith and leaks to the media while negotiations on the individual schemes were continuing.

"Public sector pensions are not 'gold plated'. Half of public sector pensioners get less than £5,600 a year. In local government, the average pension is £4,000-a-year - for women it is less. Half of women, who have worked in the NHS, receive £3,500-a-year or less.

"Millions of public sector workers, particularly low paid women, face years of pensioner poverty in their retirement. Unite is not prepared to participate in this race to the bottom for dedicated public sector workers. Pensions, whether they are in the public or private sector, are deferred pay built up after decades in the workplace.

"Public sector employees should not be used as the scapegoat for the economic crisis caused by the City elite."

Unite will be letting its 250,000 public sector members know the timetable at a later date.