Unions together in protest

FURIOUS firefighters, teachers and government workers have taken to the streets of Suffolk to demonstrate their anger at proposed pension changes. Protesters gathered on the Cornhill in Ipswich to voice concern about government plans to replace final salary schemes with career average pensions, and to increase pensionable age from 60 to 65 (50 to 55 for police and firefighters), affecting some seven million public servants.

FURIOUS firefighters, teachers and government workers have taken to the streets of Suffolk to demonstrate their anger at proposed pension changes.

Protesters gathered on the Cornhill in Ipswich to voice concern about government plans to replace final salary schemes with career average pensions, and to increase pensionable age from 60 to 65 (50 to 55 for police and firefighters), affecting some seven million public servants.

Representatives from local unions, including the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the Transport and General Union and Ipswich Borough Council UNISON members, handed out leaflets and collected around 300 signatures in only an hour and a half.

The protest took place across England, Scotland and Wales and was coordinated by the Trades Union Conference (TUC), who have named the proposals as the 'work 'til you drop' policy.

Steve Brinkley, secretary for Suffolk Firefighters, described the government's plans as "theft".

"People will still have to pay into pensions but will not get anything extra for it," he said. "This is effecting everyone in the country and we are trying to make people aware and say it's not good enough."

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He later added: "We're constantly told the State can't afford it but it's funny how they can afford to pay to go to war in Iraq."

Secretary for Ipswich and District TUC, Teresa Mackay, was delighted by the response on the Cornhill: "People have been queuing up to sign the petition – and all age groups too," she said. "People are worried for the future, for their children and grandchildren."

Roger Mackay, president of Ipswich and District Trade Union Council, said: "This is the first time I've seen public sector unions joining together in Ipswich. We all planned to be here today and it's indicative of what will happen in the future. The only way forward is to fight together."

The protesters are also outraged that MPs, who voted for their own pension increase over a year ago, can retire on three quarters of their salary, whereas pubic sector workers often receive little more than a quarter.

At a public meeting held after the Cornhill campaign, Mr Mackay said workers in the UK receive around 37% of their working life's earnings, compared to around 79% in the Netherlands. "In the year 2020, pensions will be worth 10% of their current value," he added.

Suzanne Williams, branch secretary of UNISON at Ipswich Borough Council, said the average pension for a government worker was £3,800 per year, and that it took MP's only 1080 days to earn the same amount.

Peter Lockhart, national officer for Customs and Excise, said the government would save around £234 million a year by implementing the changes to pensions.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office was quick to refute allegations of cost-cutting: "The government is trying to safeguard pensions for future generations. The move to 65 (for the pubic sector) is very much to deal with the fact people are living longer.