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Brendan Barber: 'Directors are keen to tighten every belt but their own'

From a New Year message by the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress

There is no doubt Britain is mostly a better place to live and work than a decade ago, with a strong economy, rising living standards for most, and better public services. But there is one big exception to this progress. On pensions, we have gone backwards. Employers are continuing to walk away from their responsibilities.

Only one in four private sector employees are now members of good employer pension schemes, and the trend is downwards. Many employers have shut salary-based schemes to new members. Directors in too many companies have been keen to tighten every belt other than their own - boardroom schemes continue to guarantee huge pay-outs. We will not build a new pensions consensus on the foundations of double standards and gross inequality.

Pensions will therefore continue to top the trade union agenda. In the year ahead, we will have to step up our defence of existing pensions. Rentokil will have rung alarms bells in every workplace with a decent pension. And it is clear that the best defence workers can have for their pension is effective union workplace organisation.

But the year ahead also provides an opportunity for unions to move from defence to advance following the publication of the Turner report. There is wide support for the basic elements of the commission's report.

The choice now is between using the wide support that the Turner report has won to build a new pensions settlement, or kicking the issue into the long grass of indecision. It will need tough choices. In particular, more generous state pensions will have to be paid for through the tax system, particularly if we resist raising the state pension age.

The looming pensions crisis is not the only issue the Government has to tackle. The manifesto on which they won the election contained measures that add up to a real programme for the workplace with better rights for parents, investment in child care and new holiday rights. But too much of the public sector reform programme risks alienating the very staff who have to implement it.