24/11/2011 Dragon's Eye


24/11/2011

Reporting on accusations that the UK government's plans for employment law could discriminate against women. Plus, a look ahead to next week's public sector strike.


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A strike next week, proposals to change employment rights this week.

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What does it all mean for working Good evening. Next week, millions

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of public sector workers are expected to go on strike in protest

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at plans to change their pensions. This week, the business Secretary

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proposed measures that he says will make it easier for companies to

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hire and fire employees. But some employment lawyer say it could be

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discriminatory. -- lawyers. It is the time of industrial unrest,

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unparalleled in decades. Public sector unions leave their members

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out on strike in protest against the government's pension plans. The

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government says it is about cutting bureaucracy and reducing the number

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of cases going to employment tribunals, which have increased by

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40% over the last three years. They denied they are eroding workers's

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writes. They say it is not about creating a hire and fire culture.

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Ministers say they want to make it simpler and quicker for businesses

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to get rid of staff. We want to make sure the system is fair to

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everybody. There has to be a system that is fit for purpose. You can't

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have a situation where you are afraid to take somebody on because

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you are afraid that you might want to get rid of them, or they might

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not work out. It needs to be fair, flexible and just. There was a

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survey conducted by the Department of Business and only 6% of small

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and medium-sized employers responded to that survey and they

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said that legislation regulations for a start was a barrier to

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success. This man took his form or employers to court and won his case.

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He is now an Assembly member. taking right away from workers

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which is the main thing. If they have been treated unfairly, they

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should be compensated. The other main thing is to save employees

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going to a tribunal. It is expensive. My union paid up to

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�40,000. Other part of the proposals could cause problems,

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like employees having the right to have protected conversations with

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their employees. - - employers. of the issues his retirement and

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that is ultimately about age discrimination. The Citizens Advice

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Bureau or are concerned that people will have to pay upfront for

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tribunal access. The Ministry of Justice is also going to introduce

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application and hearing fees for tribunal cases, which will make a

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substantial barrier to justice for low paid workers. There is talk

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that the application fee will be �250 and the hearing fee will be

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�1,000. From April, workers will also have to be employed for two

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years rather than one before they can claim unfair dismissal. The law

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changed just over a decade ago when the Labour government reduce the

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period when unfair dismissal could be claimed. It could be challenged

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legally at the European level because it may discriminate against

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women. I can see it happening, and challenge against the validity of

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this law. Since 1972, we have been members of the European Community.

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Decisions at the European Court of Justice are paramount in our legal

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system. It is not the first time that the coalition's policies have

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been criticised for being disproportionately hard on women,

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and that would hurt them in the court of public opinion, especially

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with female voters. It is going to be hard work, constant hard work to

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ensure a level playing field for women workers and men workers. Look

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at the differentials with pay, for example. Higher executive pay. But

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looking at direct and indirect sex discrimination, we have had to

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fight long and hard over many years to get some degree of equality. It

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does not come easy, and I see this as a backward step by this

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Conservative-led government. Economic gloom and industrial

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strife do not go hand in hand, but as the government tries to balance

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Business demand and employment -- employment rights in law, they

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could find it difficult to satisfy either side.

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Brian Meechan reporting, and thanks to Cardiff University Law School

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for use of their facilities. Joining me from our Milbank studio

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is the Liberal Democrat peer Lord German and here with me in the

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studio is the Labour Assembly member Mick Antoniw. Gentlemen,

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welcome to the programme. Do you support these proposals? Yes. It is

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a proportional change the government is making to make it

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easier for people to be taken on, particularly by small companies,

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and to make it easier for workers to get their compensation in a

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swifter and less confrontational way than having to go straight to

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court. What is missing from your piece is that there are a raft of

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proposals that will give people a chance to get their matter resolved

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using the reconciliation service rather than having to go to court.

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I think Mike should hand -- hang his head in shame. You know and I

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know that these proposals will not create any jobs. It is not about

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growth, it is about pandering to a Conservative right-wing agenda.

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They came close to losing a vote in the House of Commons and this is

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about keeping the right wing of the Tory party happy. There is no

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evidence this will create a single job. I had been doing this for 31

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years and quite frankly, it will make no difference whatsoever other

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than to discern how workers from having any protection and security

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in the workplace. Part of the problem is that we are tried to

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keep the lawyers out of it. We have tried to give people the

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opportunity to get them matters resolved quickly without having to

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resort to expensive court cases, which as one of the contributors in

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your package say it, will cost thousands of pounds. Surely it is

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better to have a straight forward the conciliation service which is

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of low cost to everyone, can be dealt with swiftly and can result

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in people thinking they can get their retribution more quickly and

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at the same time taking some of the fear out that employers have

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overtaking someone on. there is a better way of doing this and we

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need to meet current demands. There will be employers who are therefore

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now, particularly small employers, there will have taking people on.

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We will pick up on that in the second. This point about going to

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ACAS to resolve a dispute before automatically going to an

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employment tribunal. That does make sense. Eight has already comes in

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on many disputes. Disciplinary procedures already had conciliation

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in it. This is reinventing the wheel. It already exists and will

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make no difference. And, of course, there will be no tribunal cases at

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all. Cannot be right that a person does not have any security and any

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right not to be unfairly dismissed in the workplace? If that were true,

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I would be opposing it, but the rights are still there for people

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to go to court, although that is the last resort. It is not. Yes it

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is. If you cannot go to a tribunal, if you do not have that right...

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course you have the right to go to a tribunal. If you do not have it,

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you are powerless. You have got it wrong. Firstly, you have to go to

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reconciliation to ACAS. If you cannot resolve it, then you can go

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to court. Let us move on to a different point. The extension of

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the period in which an employee is not able to claim for unfair

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dismissal - as a gesture of from one lawyer that that is potentially

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discriminatory against women. Does that concern you? The department

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and the government denied that. The issue here it is one that is going

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back to a position we were in 10 years ago where that period of time

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emerges. But I would hope that in our legislative processes that we

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don't have to have such hard shoulder to the way we deal with

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employee disputes. It is very important we make life more

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flexible, but for the worker and the employer, in the way they can

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be dealt with and the way they can deal with matters. The court should

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be the last resort. Do you see any justification in the argument

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underline the government's position which is that it employers feel

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that they don't have employees are tied to them, they will be more

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likely to hire them and that is what we need? There is no evidence

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of that and Vince Cable's evidence does not make sense. There is no

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justification for this at all and I challenge Mike, surely one piece of

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evidence that actually establish is that employers would take people on

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if their employees have the right? Whilst only 6% bought it as No. 1

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at as a barrier to taking on new staff, others put it further down

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the list. You can understand why. Secondly and thirdly, for many

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employees is the issue... That is not evidence. Asked in an

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employer... Gentlemen, I am grateful to you both for such a

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passionate debate. Factory macro for joining us on Dragon's Eye. --

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Thank you. It could be the biggest strike in a

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generation. If planned industrial action by the some of the biggest

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trade unions goes ahead next Wednesday, more than two million

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public sector workers across the UK and tens of thousand in Wales could

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be staying away from work. In Swansea, almost a third of the

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workforce is employed in the public sector. So what impact could it

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have on the city? Here's Bethan Lewis.

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Some people would rather avoid it for a bit longer, but in Swansea,

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the evidence is clear to see. There is only a month to go before

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Christmas and before the festive season proper starts, thousands of

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the city's workers will be joining talks and joining the biggest

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strike for decades and possibly the biggest ever. Teachers, council

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workers and NHS staff are among those due to strike on Wednesday.

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The union say they have no alternative in view of UK

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government plans to increase the amount employees pay into their

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pension funds and making them work longer before they can collect the

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money. I caught up with Ben Holland, who is a teacher on the outskirts

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of Swansea. He went to work this morning, but next Wednesday he will

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It is a threefold attack. It is an increase in the retirement major --

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age, and an increase in our contributions. I cannot afford it.

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And it is a move to a system which means that my pension will be with

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15% less than without these changes. -- will be worth.

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Across Wales, a quarter of the workforce is employed in the public

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sector. In Swansea, it is close to one third. Not all of those 33,000

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people will be on strike next week, but the effect could be felt more

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keenly here than in most places. strike would be bad for the local

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economy. Lot of disruption for individuals. In the case of schools,

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we will find it very disruptive for schools and working parents. --

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pupils and working parents. If you have made an appointment for his

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use run by your local council, these are likely to be affected.

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well as council jobs, the area has a high number of UK government

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workers and those jobs are extremely valuable according to a

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local MP. He Storrar, job that came to Swansea, like the DVLA and the

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Land Registry, were brought here because we were communities that

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needed jobs. -- historically. They were to replace the mechanised

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industries we were losing, so public sector jobs are very

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precious and we need to keep those jobs. The government insists the

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reform is needed because of the rising cost of pensions. Elsewhere

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in the city, this small business owner believes there is little

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support for the action from people who work for private businesses.

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This computer training firm has had to cut staff because of the tough

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economic trading conditions. many small to medium-size

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enterprises, they do not exist any pension schemes. A lot of companies,

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with those under 20 workers, the main objectives are to stay alive.

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The private sector will look at the public sector and say, "look, they

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are earning as much as I am. They have better security than I have

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these days, and they have a better pension. And I am paying for that

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better pension, as a private employer, through my taxes".

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everyone is sympathetic to the cause, but Ian, who is a litter

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picker for the council, says the pension he is trying to protect is

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far from a gold-plated benefits of which some believe is standard in

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the public sector have. I will be in a pension scheme 28 years when I

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retire and by pension will be less than �6,000 a year. So it is a bit

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of a myth, I think. Maybe people further up the line get good

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pensions but I don't think anybody would call that gold plated.

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looks like Swansea's Winter Wonderland will be open as usual

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next Wednesday, though it is council run. The staff of from a

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private company. But as for key council services, there is likely

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to be more disruption. The council say they will have a better idea of

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the likely impact over the next couple of days. It is almost

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certain public services in Swansea will take a hit next week, but

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whether it helps train to the stance of the UK government will

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not be clear for some time. -- change at the stance. Meanwhile,

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the season of goodwill is on hold as the stand-off between ministers

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and unions continues. Earlier, I spoke to Dominic

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MacAskill from Unison. I asked why unions were proceeding with the

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strike, when the deal they were being offered was still much better

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than the average private sector pension. In terms of public sector

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services, they cost money and we need to pay people appropriate

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wages to attract them. Pensions are deferred wages, services, in effect,

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a pay cut for public-sector workers. Private sector pensioners have

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nothing to gain it from the race to the bottom by undermining public

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sector pensions. It would be cheaper for them, wouldn't it?

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would be cheaper, but do you get quality services if you undermine

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the services you are provided by reducing people's pay and

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conditions? This is not about making pensions more sustainable.

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It is, in effect, a windfall tax on public sector workers, because the

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previous reviews of the public sector pension schemes concluded

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that, in 2008, and they made significant savings. A cross-party

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parliamentary body has estimated upwards of �60 billion has already

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been saved over the coming five decades from the scheme. Hutton's

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own report indicated that public- sector pensions, as a percentage of

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GDP, had peaked and was on its way down. So we don't see this as being

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about pensions but about a windfall tax on public sector workers.

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Hutton - not a Conservative or Liberal Democrat, in fact a former

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Labour minister, has backed a case for reform and said the existing

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system benefited the top end is in the public sector. That is another

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question - the issue about whether to go for a career average scheme

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or a final-salary scheme. Unison is fairly neutral on that, because we

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see a lot of benefits for the vast majority of our members in the

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career average scheme. But it is about the accrual rate. If you have

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a poor up a crew will rate, it is a very poor scheme. -- a week -- a

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crew will rate. What about public support? This strike has the

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potential to inconvenience millions of people, up-and-down the country,

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too, for the most part - and I returned to this point - will have

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much poorer pensions than the ones you are on strike to defend.

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Unison's campaign is about their pensions fall. By due a striking to

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protect public sector pensions. This is where the attack is focused.

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-- but you are striking. The private sector workers have nothing

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to gain from reducing and undermining public sector pensions:

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Because that will only encourage the private sector to further

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undermine private sector pensions. The general public have recognised

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that this is not just about their pensions. This is a wider cuts

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agenda, a wider issue of paying off the decks of the bankers. But

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government have expected to to have public opinion on their side. -- of

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the debt of the bankers. Upwards of 3 million of our members will be

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taking action on November 30th, and they have families, friends.

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Public-sector workers are the general public. Finally, briefly,

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how long will this fight go on, do you think? The government seems

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solid in its position that it must have public-sector pension reform.

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Well, I certainly believe 30th November will demonstrate to the

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government that not only are public sector workers feeling strongly

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about this, but that the feeling is widespread. So I hope that the

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government will take notice of the 30th and take back -- comeback to

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the negotiating table with real compromises, so there we can agree

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to a settlement. But we have got no illusions that this government is a

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friend of public-sector workers. We are preparing to battle on this

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issue. Dominic MacAskill of Unison there. Joining me to discuss the

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issues surrounding next week's strike is the Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn

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Llwyd in London, under Conservative M -- AM Byron Davies.

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Elfyn Llwyd, do you support the strike? A yes, because I don't

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believe a government have been fair - and I speak as the vice chair of

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the parliamentary group, and I know intimately what has been going on.

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Francis Maude has refused to meet them and refused to give

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information. Moving away from the parliamentary committee, the

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teachers' pot was last valued in 2004 and announced in 2006. It was

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in surplus at that time but we don't know what it is like now.

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There is an excuse that somehow there is a big, black hole. Unless

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you are able to get the information, how can you judge whether the

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government is telling the truth? I do not think the way in which

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Francis Maude on the government ministers are handling this is

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anything but goading the unions into a position where the only

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thing they have left is to withdraw their labour. I know the efforts

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that have been made to have any constructive dialogue a but they

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have been thwarted. Is the UK government spoiling for a fight

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with the unions? A I don't agree with Elfyn Llwyd when he says we

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are goading the unions into a fight. The present government has taken a

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very responsible attitude towards what is a difficult financial

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situation, which was inherited. People are living longer and we

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must realise that. We have got to be able to afford to pay pensions.

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I knew accepting the allegation that Dominic MacAskill made in the

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interview, that this is about pain of the deficit, not securing the

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long-term security of public sector pensions? No, not at all. Who would

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run the bank's? The bankers. Who was in charge at the time? The

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Labour government. It was not public sector workers, but the

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reality is we are where we are. We have to deal with it and we cannot

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afford to pay the pensions we are at the moment. That sounds like it

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is about deficit reduction. If you are saying it is about dealing with

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the become a crisis, that is about debt reduction. There may be an

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element of that. For people who are currently in the pension schemes,

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there is a ten-year cushion, so it is not that bad. Take up that point,

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Elfyn Llwyd, that the government has put forward a compromise offer

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to soften the impact of these reforms for those who are

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approaching retirement age. that small number, yes, that is

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true. But I won't let Byron Davies get away with this. He says

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pensions are not sustainable. There has a report said they were best --

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sustainable and that as a percentage of GDP, they were coming

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down, even now, at the National Audit Office reported that they

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were sustainable. These are independent report, so I am not

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prepared to listen to this nonsense about there being unsustainable. We

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watched the bankers do as they wished and leave us in a huge hole.

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The weaker people at the bottom end have to bail them out. That is not

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any kind of wisdom or fairness to me. I see that the unions do not

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want to strike just before Christmas, but they are left with

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no other option and I don't blame them. Lord Hutton nevertheless

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supported the case for reform. reform, but this is not reform - it

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is savage cuts. Remember, if you will, that the public sector are

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expected to accept a pay freeze for the next two years. That means a

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real-terms cut in pay over the next two years of about 11%. On top of

0:25:320:25:35

that, they expect them to pay more towards a pension that will give

0:25:350:25:42

them less at the end of the day. It is grossly unfair. Thank you. Is

0:25:420:25:48

there any room for compromise, Byron Davies? Leads to us get this

0:25:480:25:53

right. We talk about fairness - what about the small companies that

0:25:530:25:57

are trying to make their way through the current situation? They

0:25:570:26:01

would be happy for some of their workers to have some of this public

0:26:010:26:07

service pension money. I just can't except what Elfyn Llwyd says.

0:26:070:26:12

is a specious argument. What has it got to do with the public sector? I

0:26:120:26:16

worked in the private sector and I employed 28 people, so I know a bit

0:26:160:26:22

about that. Looking across... have worked in the private sector

0:26:220:26:26

and I have worked in the public sector for 32 years. Looking across

0:26:260:26:30

with an envious eye is ridiculous. The it is not an envious eye, it is

0:26:300:26:35

realistic. Thank you fought joining us to discuss those issues. That

0:26:350:26:43

was fun! Let's go over to Betsan Powys.

0:26:430:26:47

Let's talk about the budget negotiations. A in the fast lane,

0:26:470:26:51

they are keeping it quiet. I spoke to pied come resources speaking

0:26:510:27:00

about Labour not putting up their efforts. -- applied Cumbria.

0:27:000:27:04

Government sources this evening are talking on speed text. They say

0:27:040:27:08

they are not running at eight Running commentary. The same with

0:27:080:27:12

the Lib Dem source I spoke to, but we have spoken to another Lib Dems

0:27:120:27:18

sauce. They said that Labour had been told to wake up and smell the

0:27:180:27:21

coffee. They said the coffee was on and could be smelt from the 5th

0:27:210:27:28

floor. Remind us what the opposition parties want in order to

0:27:280:27:37

give their support. Plied want emergency package measures and

0:27:370:27:40

emergency money spent quickly. They are talking about skills and

0:27:400:27:49

creating jobs. The Lib Dems are talking about something akin to a

0:27:500:27:54

pupil premium in England. Aitken would be the Blair bed because that

0:27:540:27:59

would tie the government into doing something over quite a few years. -

0:27:590:28:09
0:28:090:28:10

- the key word of there. The others have let themselves out. And the

0:28:100:28:15

timetable, briefly? They have to lay the Budget on the 29th, so all

0:28:150:28:19

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