Tuesday, March 28, 2006

IT'S AGE DISCRIMINATION

"It's age discrimination," said one manager to me yesterday. He was talking about a raft of unions' strike action today in protest at the government's plans to scrap the rule of 85, which sayd that local government workers can retire early if the sum of their age and the length of their employment is 85 or more.

The government claims that this rule is unsustainable. The odious Digby Jones says the government should bring public sector pension policy into the 21st century - which roughly translates as "exploit the buggers even more". To call the rule of 85 (and the Unions' industrial action) discriminatory is rather like saying it is ageist to give up your seat to an older person on a bus. The new EU age discrimination legislation is a waste of time precisely because it actually means forcing poorer public sector workers to work longer.

Of course we live in an ageing population and, on the whole, people are healthier in their old age than they were 20 or 30 years ago, though there are still areas of the country where the state of older people's health is shockingly bad (in one constituency of Glasgow, average life expectancy for men is still less than70 years). But these pension reform proposals fly in the face of the Department of Health's mealy mouthed words about reducing health inequalities. The north London borough where I work has very high levels of deprivation and vast disparities in health and wellbeing, and the Council is the biggest overall employer in the borough. Forcing people to work longer will only exacerbate these problems.

And as for Phil Woolas's claims of "ongoing cost stability" - well, Andy Brammer, the Wakefield UNISON branch's shop steward sums it up perfectly:

This strike can send a clear message that we’re not prepared to see our hard won rights taken away, especially at a time when the government can find billions for war and tax breaks for the rich.

Why should street sweepers, school cooks, refuse workers, teaching assistants and the hundreds of thousands of other people doing vital jobs be forced to do an extra five years after decades of work on poor pay? That is exactly what will happen if the government force through their plan to scrap the “rule of 85”, which says that some local government workers can retire at 60 if they have worked 25 years.

I happened to do some volunteering for Age Concern this morning (yes, angelic as well as militant!). I must admit I did mention the fact that I was on strike several times, and at first got a muted response, mainly because (a) people had believed the Government's bullshit about economic insustainability and (b) because they thought strikes led to elderly people being left vulnerable by not getting their home help. Well, the first point is very quickly answered by Andy in the quote above: if the Government can afford to spend £6 billion in Iraq (for the fruits of their labours, see here) or on the exorbitant sums incurred from disastrous PFI schemes (value for money, Ms Hewitt? I don't think so...), why can it not afford to support its lowest paid workers? And on the second point, I can confirm that no older people will have been left vulnerable by this strike - all workers who attend to life-and-limb situations are exempted from the strike. Besides, it is not dewy-eyed to say that the nature of public sector workers is to put the people they serve first. They are not a naturally militant or politicised bunch at all. In fact, the idea of going on strike seems, to some, like a betrayal. But when the government puts forward such damaging proposals as these, what choice do they have?

2 Comments:

Blogger Ned Kelly said...

Digby Jones spoke at my graduation ceremony. He was a cock.

4:52 AM  
Blogger Comandante Gringo said...

Is this the place where I get to say that the Euro working masses have to rise up together and both smash the EU -- and its rich patrons? Point being: youse all do it together. Kinda like in 1848. Only better.

We don't have to put up with this neoliberal shite. Not one bit.
Rise up!

9:41 PM  

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