Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘TUC

National Audit Office on public sector pensions

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The National Audit Office has published the first of two reports on the cost of public sector pensions. The reports are expressly designed to inform the debate about the affordability of public sector schemes, in particular that of ‘unfunded’ schemes (i.e. those which do not invest in assets but where pensions are funded on a pay-as-you-go basis out of employee, employer and Treasury contributions), the four largest in particular. The second report is due out later this year. Given the political discourse over the future of the public sector based as it is on cuts, the report is clearly timely.

Nigel Stanley over at ToUChstone has already produced some well-cast nuggets from the NAO report, while the TUC has also issued some well-chosen words in a press release, and I don’t want simply to go over the same ground. The NAO report has not been specifically designed to debunk any of the prevailing myths about public sector pensions (the TUC has already done so, as has the GMB) and its views provide an impartial commentary on the state of affairs. I do, however, want specifically to note the contribution of the NAO report in helping to ensure that the continuing debate over public sector pensions is rooted not in misinformed prejudice about so-called ‘gold-plated’ public sector pensions (bearing in mind that the median public sector pension in payment is less than £5,000) but in what is actually happening in the real world.


Written by Calvin

12/03/2010 at 1:33 pm

Posted in Pensions, Politics

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Recession Report No. 16

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The TUC’s last Recession Report was published yesterday and can be accessed via Nicola Smith’s post over at ToUChstone. The topical theme of this issue, in the week that saw International Women’s Day and the TUC’s 2010 Women’s Conference, as well as the launch of a specific TUC report on Women and the Recession, is the impact of the recession on working women. Inevitably, there is a degree of overlap between the two reports.

The headline labour market stats are that 2.457m people are out of work (more or less unchanged on the month and the quarter, but 448,000 up on the year), representing an unemployment rate of 7.8% (again, unchanged on the month and quarter but up by 1.4 percentage points on the year). Some 28.9m people are in work, representing an employment rate of 72.4% (down by 1.7 points on the year). The TUC remains concerned about the numbers of people who are working on a part-time and/or temporary basis involuntarily, and about long-term unemployment, both of which it sees as a sign of a continuing ‘serious weakness’ in the labour market.

Employment rates for both men and women have fallen during the recession but on a far smaller basis than in previous recessions, largely due to involuntary part-time working acting as something of a cushion. The proportion of women who are economically active (not necessarily in employment but looking for work) has also continued to rise in the recession, to a figure of 74.4% (the highest on record) – in contrast to previous recessions. The biggest barrier to female employment remains opportunities to balance work and family life: 41% of women who are inactive but who want a job are looking after a home or family.

The fall in the employment rate has been lesser for women than men, but this is a result of the predominance of women in the public sector, which takes around 40% of women nationally compared to around 15% of male workers. Consequently, large-scale public spending cuts are likely to give good reason to imagine that unemployment may well resume its upwards rise, and may well cause serious hardship to families where a second round of redundancies, this time predominantly amongst women, falls in areas of existing high unemployment.

Given that the public sector is also more likely to provide work-life balance arrangements, spending cuts may well see a reversal of the trend in women’s economic activity rates: representing another aspect of the social, as well as economic, disaster that such cuts would represent.

Written by Calvin

11/03/2010 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Economic trends

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International Women’s Day

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8 March is International Women’s Day (loading very slowly, today) – a day adopted by the United Nations in 1975 to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. The banner under which events are taking place this year is ‘Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities, Progress For All‘ and they include an event at the TUC tonight promising ‘a night of comedy, music, poetry, politics and campaigning‘. LabourList is also commemorating the event with a day of women-only blogging, under a female guest editor following Rowenna Davis’s turn in the hot seat last year.

Justice for Colombia, to which Prospect is affiliated, is holding a one hour vigil at the Colombian Embassy today at 4pm to mark International Women’s Day and protest against the ongoing detention of human rights defender Liliany Obando, while Prospect members can download an excellent newsletter celebrating the achievements of women in Prospect.

For as long as inequality remains, we need to be reminded of why, so such special days as these continue to be useful. But, as Michael Foot said:

Describe the challenges by all means, but don’t confuse analysis with action. The one must lead to the other if it is to be useful to people. (Hat-tip: Roger Darlington)

Making International Women’s Day useful to women across the globe via practical action will, I suspect, continue to be a source of challenge for the organisers of such events, and policy-makers more generally, for some time to come.

Written by Calvin

08/03/2010 at 1:33 pm

The Flowers of Guatemala

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Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC, has written to the Guatemalan ambassador in the UK to protest at the murder of Pedro Antonio Garcia, the fifth trade unionist to have been killed in Guatemala since November 2009, and at the attempted murder of Abel Barsilai Giron Roldan.

The letter points out that the murders and attacks are:

The most blatant aspect of a far wider policy which seems designed to destroy any form of independent trade union organisation and meaningful social dialogue in Guatemala

against the background of an escalation of attacks since 2005 documented by the ITUC. Shockingly, the local police commander is reported to have said, in the context of the attempted murder of Mr. Roldan, that ‘firing a weapon is not a crime’ – a phrase which not only gives succour to the murderers and to their sponsors, but which also appears to lend support to their campaign of terror.

The Flowers of Guatemala are blooming again.

Written by Calvin

17/02/2010 at 11:22 am

Pay: prospects for 2010

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In recognition of today’s joint TUC/Incomes Data Services conference on pay bargaining, the TUC has produced a list of ten myths on pay in the context of the recession which you can find both here and on Richard Exell’s post on ToUChstone.

The myths, which are drawn from the different parts of the union movement, are common ones and ones that are likely to appear again and again over the next few months, not least since the spring months are the most significant ones for pay negotiations, with the largest number of pay deals concluded during the January-April period; and there’s also the issue of the forthcoming general election. They’re well worth repeating in these specific contexts, and they do need to be tackled whenever they occur, so here they are in brief:

1. MYTH: above inflation wage increases could set off a damaging wage spiral. REALITY: wages are not driving inflation at the minute and it’s normal in the long-run for wages to increase above the rate of inflation

2. MYTH: further freezes and cuts are needed to make companies profitable again. REALITY: Some companies may be struggling but rates of return remain generous and cuts are likely to be damaging to growth

3. MYTH: Wage freezes have been widespread through the private sector. REALITY: Two-thirds of companies gave rises last year, with a median increase of 2.3%

4. MYTH: Wage freezes will be just as widespread in 2010. REALITY: the economy is growing again and inflation is on the rise. Wage claims, and pay agreements, are likely to follow suit

5. MYTH: Unions have accepted wage freezes because they are too weak to negotiate pay rises. REALITY: Wage freezes have occurred where there are genuine cases of hardship but unions are wise to cases of wage restraint designed to boost company profits

6. MYTH: Public sector pay freezes are an alternative to job losses. REALITY: a false choice, since short-term pay restraint has a limited effect other than on staff morale

7. MYTH: A minimum wage freeze will prevent job losses in the private sector. REALITY: this makes little sense socially, given the background to the recession, or indeed economically since the lowest paid are likely to use more of their wages on spending than on saving

8. MYTH: Raising the minimum wage for young people will make it harder for them to find jobs: REALITY: The recession has hit young people hard, but employment has fared better in low-paying sectors

9. MYTH: Public sector wages rocketed while private sector wages contracted last year. REALITY: data changes caused the discrepancy, not least given the dominance in the average wage figures of the nationalised banks. Since 1999, public sector wages have grown more slowly than those in the private sector.

10. MYTH: Public servants earn more than workers in the private sector. REALITY: this is like comparing apples and pears. Where similar jobs are compared, the differential does not depart strongly from zero.

More myths to the list can always be added: from a purely private-sector perspective, for example, we have the myth (not least in a recession, but not limited to such times) that pay can be meaningfully linked to performance. In the coming weeks and months, this blog will be doing its bit to bust the myths on pay that come our way.

The myths on this list are busted more fully on Richard’s ToUChstone post, while regular readers of ToUChstone will recognise several from individual in-depth postings in recent weeks. As Richard says, the recovery remains fragile and is likely to be threatened by wage restraint. Individual sets of pay negotiations are likely to be dominated more by the circumstances of the organisation concerned, with the economy providing more of a backdrop, but, from a macro perspective, it is clear that a growing economy will be driven by people spending money – and that implies a clear economic need for real wage rises.

Written by Calvin

16/02/2010 at 12:42 pm

Tobin, updated

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The Tobin Tax was first proposed by Nobel Laureate economist James Tobin in 1972 as a levy designed to deter currency speculation (although he was building on the wider financial transactions tax proposed by Keynes back in 1936). Some sort of financial transactions tax has been back on the political and economic agenda in recent times as a way of dealing with one aspect of the conditions which have led to this last economic crisis (and, frankly, as a means of getting the bankers to pay (back) their share). The wiki entry on the Tobin Tax is good on the background and the recent history.)

An updated Tobin Tax, updated for the modern times and renamed the Robin Hood tax has now been proposed by a coalition of around 50 organisations dealing with poverty, including the TUC, as a way of raising funds from banking activities towards dealing with poverty and climate change, both in the UK and abroad. The campaign features a video produced by Richard Curtis and starring Bill Nighy – and, of course, you can sign up for updates and vote (more than 4:1 in favour, so far, now that stacks of multiple ‘no’ votes have been discounted), too. ToUChstone, the TUC’s blog, has produced several posts on the initiative today as, from a capital markets perspective, has labour and capital.

[Edit 15 February: now a margin of 10:1 in favour – while the multiple ‘no’ votes appeared to have come from two IP addresses, one of which is registered to Goldman Sachs, that Great American bubble machine. Doing God’s work again, Lloyd?]

The Connect Sector of Prospect has a policy of raising awareness of and support for the Tobin Tax dating back to 2001 and this blog supports also the updated initiative: it’s another aspect of a welcome return to Keynesian economic views; in deterring short-termism, it may well have a role to play in improving (long-term) corporate governance; the activities the target of the tax are those which fit well within the definition of being, in Adair Turner’s neat turn of phrase, ‘socially useless’; and the funds it will raise ought clearly to help with the worthwhile central mission of the coalition.

Without going into all the arguments of the naysayers, some of which are less worthy than others, it seems to me that, to be successful, the initiative needs to recognise the following:

1. this is not a cheap way of raising finance to meet long-term UN goals of all countries providing 0.7% of GDP for international assistance – it has to be extra

2. this is not a way of providing bankers with a route back to social acceptability, and neither does it deal with the behaviours which caused the crisis and the need to inject huge amounts of capital to bailing out the banks – both of which are issues which need to be properly tackled. Nevertheless, we do need to understand what role (very) short-term trading plays and why those engaged in it do it, given the tiny margins being quoted; at the same time, the tax needs to target what is demonstrably ‘socially useless’ activity undertaken within the financial services sector – and this itself needs to be cut off. The City needs to recognise this, too, much more than it does.

3. the potential for City creativity needs to be recognised and the issue of accountability to pay the tax properly covered

4. the monies need to be properly ring-fenced and used for specific goals. What can’t be allowed to happen is that money raised and sent overseas then finds its way back to this (or any other western) country in carbon trading schemes.

Overall, however, an initiative well worth supporting.

Haiti event at the TUC

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Just time for a short welcome for tonight’s event, supported by Prospect, and to express the hopes that all going have a great time. Don’t forget to take your folding stuff!

Tickets for the event are as rare as hens’ teeth – so well done if you’ve got one! – but, even if you can’t attend the event, you can still buy the t-shirt

The TUC has also published news of how trade union assistance is arriving in Haiti and being used for the good of the people there (and see also Owen Tudor’s post over at Stronger Unions) – so you know your donations are reaching their destination.

Written by Calvin

03/02/2010 at 5:30 pm