Editorial: The extremely generous nature of public sector pensions should be explained in any increased pay deal

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News Letter editorial on Friday February 16 2024:

It isn’t just happening in Northern Ireland. ​Strike action is rife across the UK.​

In Great Britain yesterday there were reports of the ongoing winter pressures on the NHS in England as junior doctors prepare for their next industrial action.

Defence agency workers are to ballot on strike action.

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London Overground railway workers have called off their plan to down tools after a pay offer was improved.

And so on. But while industrial action is a UK-wide phenomenon, NI loses far more strike days per year. From late 2022 to late 2023 the number of strike days lost per 1,000 employees was approaching double that in GB.

One obvious reason for this is that NI has a political class that wholly backs strikes. In GB, Labour and the Tories are more hesitant about doing so. Such political cowardice is in contrast to the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, who was elected in 1979 partly because the wider public was fed up with endemic industrial action.

Stormont has now allocated £700 million to settle public sector pay demands. Not an MLA seems to consider the fact that even in NI, the UK region with the highest percentage of public sector workers, almost 75% of employees work for the private sector. They pay taxes towards lavish public sector pensions that the private sector will never get, often of half a final salary index linked.

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One way to help people understand the gross imbalance in pension provision, funded by taxpayers, would be to attach a purchase value to every such index-linked pension so that the recipients know how rare and generous are these pensions. Also so that people looking in from outside also get to see the immense value of these pensions, by explaining how easily a particular salary will attain a particular pension.

It is important that public sector pay is fair but it is only possible to assess if that is so by looking at overall remuneration including pension.