Monday, June 13, 2011

The UK conundrum on pensions

If you are in the UK this coming autumn, you better brace yourself for a series of strikes. Public sector unions are calling for a series of sustained strikes. Throwback to the 80s perhaps ?? Maybe. My view is that these planned strikes are completely unjustified and the unions are living in cuckooland.

The problem is pensions. Readers of this blog are young enough to completely switch off at the mere mention of this word. But this is one of the biggest problems in business today.

The problem is that, years ago, stupid HR types, gave away a perk called "defined benefit" pensions. This meant that when you retired you were eligible for a pension which was a high percentage of your last drawn pay. To add insult, these would be inflation indexed and accrue to you till you die. That's all fine, but who's going to pay for all this. The even more stupid accounting types, blissfully ignored the ramifications of what they had promised and simply ignored this future promise. When the time came to pay, surprise surprise, there was no money. This is what brought the mighty car industry in Detroit to the shambles it is in today.

Private industry woke up to this menace a decade or two ago. Firstly they started to predict what might be the princely sums they had to pay and started providing for it (which basically meant that the cost of labour went up astronomically). Secondly, the wise ones stopped recruiting new people on this crazy scheme and instead switched to a scheme wherein your contribution was matched by the employer - but did not promise that you will get moneys linked to your last drawn salaries. The problem will therefore go away in a couple of decades.

But the public sector has been sleeping. Or scared to get up because of the unions. This is the problem in the UK. They are still continuing the unsustainable defined benefit scheme. But the government is now asking that the employees increase their contributions by 3% more. This is what the unions are wanting to strike against. 

Public sector workers must be garlanding the government that they still can get defined benefit pensions. Nobody in the private sector can get it today. Instead they want to go on strike to protect some prehistoric "entitlement". The government should call their bluff and let them strike. They risk alienating voters enough so that Margaret Thatcher II would be voted to power. That should make them pause and think.