Priti Patel is the Member of Parliament for Witham.
All of the dogmatic rhetoric from fat cat trade union leaders on six-figure salaries and the money they are spending on anti-cuts campaigns cannot disguise the fact that trade unions are becoming less relevant to the British workforce. Trade union membership levels have been in decline over the last 30 years and are now at their lowest levels since the outbreak of the Second World War.
Britain has just six-and-a-half million trade union members, which represents barely one-quarter of the nation’s workforce. This is also half the number when membership peaked at over 13 million in the late 1970s as the public suffered the winter of discontent. Almost half of all public sector workers are not union members while just one-in-seven workers in the private sector have joined a trade union. So as they prepare to inflict havoc to businesses and families on Wednesday, it is worth remembering that the support trade union leaders have from the very people they are claiming to stand up for is at an all time low.
Further evidence of how out of touch today’s champagne sipping union barons are with ordinary workers can be seen in the results of strike action ballots. Between them the biggest public sector unions could not even manage to muster a third of their total membership being balloted to turn out to vote, let alone support strike action. The two biggest, Unison and Unite, had turnouts of 28% and 31%, while the GMB managed 34% and the PCS union, whose ballot was held in advance of the 30 June strikes, managed just 30%. This demonstrates that most workers in the public sector do not want to lose a day’s pay by striking but are being forced to do so by a minority in their union who have been wound up by the militant and ideologically-driven desires of union barons.
The only major unions who saw turnouts exceed 50% included Prospect (52%), FDA (54%) and the National Association of Head Teachers (54%). Those unions tend to represent higher paid public sector workers, such as head teachers and local government directors, many of whom already enjoy six figure salaries and benefit from generous gold-plated pensions. Their objections to reform come as no surprise when they are most likely to see a reduction in their pension income as a result of the proposals compared to the current scheme. This is despite the fact they will still receive an income in retirement that most people can only dream of, which Treasury modelling shows would cost up to 70% of annual income to buy an equivalent personal pension.
By contrast the proposals put forward by the Treasury this month will enable public sector workers on lower and middle incomes to earn the same or more in retirement than the present scheme allows. The accrual rate of one-sixtieth will mean that the modest increases in contributions and increase in years worked will lead to a better pension deal in the long term for employees and taxpayers.
With this in mind, the Government must not back down in the face of these poorly supported strikes. Instead, they should continue to engage with the majority of public sector workers. These are the workers that include union members who refused to vote for strike action and the workers who are not union members. After all, it is unfair to them to let the bullying tactics of a few fat cat union barons today and an irresponsible Labour Party cost them a decent pension in the future.