By a Newsnet reporter
The Labour party has been accused of letting the Tories off the hook over the issue of pension reforms.
The attack followed the failure of the party to back a House of Commons motion yesterday which called for the UK Government to reverse unfair changes to public sector pensions.
The debate, instigated by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, was the first since the UK Government announced its pension reforms. It followed a strike last week that saw two million UK public sector workers, including 300,000 from Scotland, take part in a day of action.
The SNP and Plaid Cymru debate had been welcomed by several unions.
Speaking after the vote, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:
“Instead of uniting against these punitive reforms, it is incredible that Labour have chosen to let the Tories off the hook and let public sector workers down by sitting on their hands.
“The millions of workers who marched through the streets last week will be aghast that Labour MPs have refused to even walk through the lobbies for them.
“This was the first debate and vote since the UK Government announced its plans, and it should have been a moment when MPs from all parties united against these coalitions cuts.”
Last week’s day of action saw a split in the Labour party with Labour MSPs backing strikers by refusing to turn up for a Holyrood debate on the issue. At Westminster however Labour refused to back the strike and party leader Ed Miliband insisted that it was the job of the opposition to attend parliament.
Scottish Labour criticised the SNP for implementing the pension changes. However the SNP pointed out that Lib Dem Treasury chief Danny Alexander had already threatened to cut the Scottish budget by over £8 million per month if the changes were not made.
Dr Whiteford claimed that Labour were not interested in the welfare of public sector workers and added:
“Despite having had thirty six debates since to raise this issue, since the UK Government announced their plans, Labour has remained silent.
“It is also clear that these punitive reforms are all about the UK Government’s deficit reduction plans, and have nothing to do with securing sustainable pensions.
“The aggressive and arrogant threat to reduce the Scottish Budget if their reforms are not implemented proves that the Scottish Government has no option outside applying these increases and that the UK Government continues to have the power to meddle and influence issues which are central to the future of Scotland and which should be for the Scottish Government to decide.
“The need for affordable, sustainable and fair public sector pensions is of critical importance to everyone, which is why the short term cash grab by the UK Government is so concerning. Long-term pension reforms must be taken forward with consent and in partnership which is why it was so regrettable that UK Ministers appeared to relish strike action.
“The SNP will continue to will ensure that the voice of ordinary public sector workers is heard in parliament.”
Plaid Cymru Work and Pensions spokesperson, Hywel Williams MP, said:
“Last week’s Day of Action saw more than two million people express their concerns about the UK Government’s changes to public sector pensions and I am pleased that Plaid Cymru and the SNP brought those concerns to the House of Commons.
“These proposals mean public sector workers, who make up three in ten of the Welsh workforce, will work longer, pay more and receive less in their pensions.
“Sadly, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who are making these changes, have been let off the hook by the failure of the Labour Party to stand up for public sector workers.
“That was only what we could expect from a party which did not support the Day of Action and have conspicuously failed to show active support for those who will be affected by these changes.
“We offered Labour MPs the opportunity to show their support for public sector workers – and they did not do so. I shall leave it to those workers to decide what that means.
“Plaid Cymru will continue to fight for fair pensions for everybody, including a living state pension and protecting workers.”
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