Local authority workers vote on pensions strike

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The Independent Online

Thousands of local authority workers across the UK began voting yesterday on whether to strike over pensions, after the Government said it was to push ahead with plans to axe their right to retire at 60.

Local authority workers who have served more than 25 years with their employer are currently allowed to retire at 60, without losing any of their pension entitlements - a perk known as "the rule of 85" (which comes from adding 25 to 60).

The Government narrowly staved off an embarrassing series of local authority strikes just before last year's general election, by saying it would reconsider its decision to axe the rule of 85.

But it has now decided to push ahead with the move, and plans to implement the changes in April. John Allott, the national secretary for Local Authorities at the union Amicus, said: "Our local authority members have... already threatened to resort to industrial action to defend their pension entitlement and their age of retirement, and we as a union will do everything we can to support them in the fight.

"The public should not be under any misapprehension - these people are not closeted civil servants. They are hard-working local authority employees, some of who earn as little as £12,000 a year in physically demanding and stressful jobs at the front line of our public services and their local government annual pensions averages just £3,800 a year."

Local authority pensions are funded on a different basis to the rest of the public sector, and were therefore excluded from last autumn's pension agreement for the rest of the civil service. This ensured that all existing civil servants retain their right to retire at 60. All new civil service employees will not be permitted to retire until they reach 65.

The Government is facing an estimated £750bn public sector pension deficit, according to analysts, and will be forced to either raise taxes, increase borrowing or cut benefits for its employees if it is to meet the rising costs. Watson Wyatt, the actuarial consultants, estimate the Government's public sector pension liabilities are currently growing at almost £50bn a year, equivalent to almost 5 per cent of GDP.