THE government’s assault on public sector pensions became a major flashpoint yesterday at trade union leaders’ first official meeting with a Conservative Prime Minister for 25 years.
In a meeting at No. 10 requested by the unions to outline their concerns about the government’s public spending cuts, Cameron said certain aspects of the government’s programme were “non-negotiable”.
According to sources at the meeting, led by TUC general secretary Brendan Barber, Cameron used the phrase to refer to the government’s position on public sector pensions, where it has said it will change the basis on which they are calculated.
The government has said it will index pensions against the CPI rather than the RPI in a move that will make thousands of workers worse off as it shaves thousands off the value of their pensions.
“David Cameron said that the change in the index was non-negotiable,” said a spokesman for the Public Services Union. “There’s no point in having cosy fireside chats if they do not lead to meaningful negotiations,” he added.
Writing in today’s City A.M. the Public and Commercial Services Union general secretary Mark Serwotka says the union might do better by organising protests against the government’s proposals rather than discussing issues with them.
“If Cameron’s government will not agree to meaningful negotiations, then all the cordiality and the fine words are for nothing, and have the effect of inviting industrial and legal action,” Serwotka said.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is already looking at the legality of the government’s move, which was announced in the budget.
Those at the meeting said that the discussions were fairly cordial, although some on the union side questioned how valuable the talks had been.
The trade union delegation was deprived of one of its most militant members, Len McCluskey, whose train arrived late in from Liverpool, causing him to miss the meeting.
McCluskey warned over the weekend that the government faced a massive battle with unions over the cuts and he vowed to work with students to fight the austerity agenda.
The union side included TUC leader Brendan Barber and National Union of Journalists general secretary Jeremy Dear, while the government was represented by Cameron, Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude.
CABLE: I CAN BRING DOWN THE GOVERNMENT
THE TENSIONS within the coalition were thrown into sharp relief yesterday after the Telegraph quoted business secretary Vince Cable threatening to use the “nuclear option” to bring down the government.
Cable told undercover reporters posing as constituents that there is “a constant battle going on behind the scenes” both within and between the Tory and Liberal Democrat camps.
“If they push me too far then I can walk out of the government and bring the government down and they know that,” he was recorded as saying.
Cable said last night that he was embarrassed by the comments, but would not be resigning from his role in the coalition. The Liberal Democrats have backed his position.