I am really, really sad that health workers and other public sector employees plan to strike. While I absolutely support the right of anyone in this country to withdraw their labour if they feel strongly about an issue, I am at a loss to see how this action is going to help anyone – least of all the public sector community.
I am not going to go into the rights and wrongs of the government’s recent pensions offer and neither will I pontificate at length about what it’s like to work in the private sector compared with state funded employment as both arenas are fraught with challenges. Instead I shall just make a few points for consideration by anyone involved with healthcare who is contemplating strike action.
· Please consider the devastating effect on individual patients if an estimated 28,000 non urgent operations, 38,000 non-emergency ambulance journeys and 200,000 outpatient appointments are cancelled.
· Please understand that working in the public sector no longer means a job for life, and neither should it.
· Please note that private sector pay is, on average, lower and pensions in the private sector are, apart from the most senior of managers, nowhere near as generous as in the public sector.
· Please understand that the country currently faces a significant deficit, which, however it was created, must be addressed.
· Please remember that the general public really do appreciate all the work you do although they may not have a clear understanding of the pressures you face in your day to day roles.
· Please consider that every time you take extreme action, the support from the public could be eroded. There are 2.5 million people in this country living without jobs, on the breadline and without the benefits of employment open to you who would welcome the opportunity to have the relative security of your positions.
· Please consider the fact that there seems to be a growing emotional divide between public and private sector workers, which is a real shame as we are all in the same boat. Apart from the very wealthy we all have mortgages or rent to pay, food to buy and futures to plan in the context of the real threat of double dip recession.
· Please remember that is the most vulnerable who will suffer from your actions.
I think it’s highly regrettable that strong arm tactics appear to be in play. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury is insisting that the offer made to unions earlier this month cannot be improved and Schools Minister Nick Gibb has repeated warnings to unions that the current offer on public sector pensions may be withdrawn if no deal is reached.
I have great sympathy with my friends and colleagues facing an erosion of their pension rights. I also have great sympathy for several of my friends from the private sector who have been made redundant or face reduction in hours with no opportunity for redress. But it’s a tough world out there, and the relatively soft bosom of the public sector can continue to be a good place to nestle.
The general public is in no doubt about how strongly you feel and your point has been made well by your representatives. So keep talking but be realistic, and please, please maintain the vital services that you normally provide with such dedication.