THE Government is abusing a law that stops police from striking by forcing them to swallow “bitter medicine”, the Police Federation has claimed.
More than 30,000 off-duty officers took to the streets of London yesterday to march against 20 per cent budget cuts, including 700 from West Yorkshire Police, nearly 300 from South Yorkshire, 210 from Humberside and 200 from North Yorkshire.
The event was organised by the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, and West Yorkshire Chairman Andrew Tempest-Mitchell slammed what he claimed was the Government’s abuse of the law.
“It is illegal for us to strike and police officers believe that the Government is abusing the very fact that they cannot take direct action,” he said. “They think that we will just swallow the medicine that they have prescribed no matter how bitter it is.
“Police officers are not prepared to sit back and do nothing, that is why they have taken leave today for this march which has taken over London.
“This march will hopefully make the Government sit up and think about the impact their cuts are having.”
Around 16,000 of the officers donned black baseball caps with the words “Cuts are criminal” to represent the number the Federation say will be lost in England and Wales.
Federation chairman Paul McKeever told them: “We care very deeply about the communities that we serve. We have seen what happens when we have a Government that has given policing a very low priority.
“If you are cutting our jobs, then you are cutting the service we can deliver and the public’s safety is at risk.”
The officers began marching from Millbank at around noon in a protest to show “the unprecedented attack on policing by this Government and the consequences that these cuts will have for public safety”.
The last time police took to the streets, then-home secretary Jacqui Smith was blamed for a high-profile pay dispute in January 2008 and was ridiculed at the federation’s conference.
Home Secretary Theresa May, who asked former rail regulator Tom Winsor to carry out the most wide-ranging review of police pay and conditions in 30 years, will address the officers at their annual conference in Bournemouth next week.
Policing Minister Nick Herbert wrote an open letter to all officers telling them he and the Home Secretary were “constantly impressed by the work you do for your communities” but insisting that “all organisations have to keep pace with the modern world”.
The Government wants to recognise the professionalism of officers, reduce bureaucracy and ensure officers are rewarded “for the excellent job you do”, he wrote.
He insisted that officers will continue to earn more than other emergency services, continue to take overtime and continue to retire earlier than most people in the public sector while their pensions will also still be among the best available.
The march coincided with 400,000 public sector workers launching a 24-hour UK-wide strike in a dispute with the government over pension changes.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union – which estimates that an “overwhelming majority” of its 250,000 public sector members were on strike – said the cost of pensions was falling as a proportion of GDP.
“We pay more and not a penny goes into anybody’s pension fund,” he said. “In every major public sector scheme – health, education and the civil service – the majority of trade unions have refused to accept these cuts in their pensions. We’re going to have the highest pension age of any western European country.”
The government plans to raise the retirement age in line with the state pension age – eventually to rise to 68.
But Conservative Party chairman Sayeeda Warsi said that workers were being asked “to work a little bit longer and to pay a bit more but they will be guaranteed a pension which is index-linked and inflation proof”.
“I’m disappointed that a handful of unions are striving to carry on with union action which is going to benefit no-one and is going to inconvenience the public,” she said.
Government proposals seek substantially increased employee contributions. As well as increasing the retirement age, the government also proposes that final-salary schemes will eventually go.