We are entering the crucial phase of our negotiation with the Unions over the future of public sector pensions.
A year ago at election time there was a very real fear in Trade Union circles that the incoming Government would seek a confrontation on this issue and seek to end the defined benefit system.
In fact we, and in this case it was very much a Conservative initiative, sought to defuse the issue and appointed former Labour Secretary of State, John Hutton, to advise on the matter. It is his recommendations that are at the root of the present negotiations.
The need for retirement ages to increase along with contribution levels is the only way of paying for pensions without leaving an unacceptable bill to be picked up by the taxpayer.
However, at a time of a pay freeze an increase in contribution levels is effectively a take home pay cut and it is this that upsets Unions and their members.
Strikes are not a sensible option for Unions. The victims of strike actions would be the people (mainly women) who have to stay at home and look after the children denied education. They rightly will feel resentful and possibly this is why although the Unions are making much of the high proportion of those voting for strikes in the ballots.
However, the real fact is that the turnout was not very high and in fact only around a third of Union members voted for strike action. In the teaching profession one Union, NASUWT, has no plans to strike so the possibility is of a patchy and under-supported strike which could leave Union leaders looking foolish.
Roughly one third of Union members vote Conservative and we need to remember that a good proportion of them realise that the Government's policies are needed to put the country back on its feet. That is why we must continue to negotiate in good faith and look for a solution which preserves the reforms whilst possibly making them more palatable in terms of timing and implementation.
So let us not demonise the Unions, but realise they are doing what their members pay them for – that is getting the best deal possible for their members. We in turn are doing what we were elected for – namely getting the country out of the dreadful mess inherited from Labour.
The two aims are not incompatible.