There's a big union strike next week in the UK - several of the biggest public-sector workers' unions are striking in protest against changes to pensions. Now I've worked in the public sector all my life, mostly in what was HM Customs & Excise and more recently in local government for the police and I can see both sides of the argument.
Undeniably, people are living longer and therefore claiming pensions for longer. So it stands to reason that we have to work for longer. I don't like the idea but I'm lucky enough to have a job I enjoy and so I'm not complaining on that front. But when I joined the Civil Service back in the mid 80s, I went to London to work in VAT office (life got more exciting later - trust me - but that's possibly the subject of another blog and if you read it, I may have to kill you afterwards). It wasn't a well-paid job, in a naff office on the North Circular and there were no perks - no company car, private health care, gym discounts or annual bonus. Many of my colleagues left to go to the private sector - the big accountancy and consultancy firms - and moved on to better pay and conditions. Those of us that didn't had the consolation of the one good thing about the job. The pension. We endured years of rubbish pay knowing that at least we would be getting a decent pension. And now they want to change that? I'm talking about the workers here - not senior management or even middle-management, and I don't know who all these people are that are apparently getting gold-plated pensions. It isn't us. Will it happen across the board? Will ministers and the senior civil service take the same hit? Hmm.
I took HM Customs & Excise to an industrial tribunal many years ago. And won. It was more about taking a stand against bullying management than anything else, but I did get some money out of it. I couldn't have done it without the help of my union and it was one of the most stressful times of my life, but I was proud of the result and I hope I helped other people in the process who may have been too scared to speak out.
So I'm both for and against this strike. At the moment, given the state of the rest of Europe, I'm grateful to have a job and I hope I have a pension at all in 20 years time - or whenever I get to retire! And I'm proud of working in the public sector. I've done some boring jobs, but I've also seen and done the kinds of things you rarely see outside of the movies and television, which has influenced much of my writing since then. And I met my husband in that VAT office in North West London.