Socialist Worker

Ministers' contempt over pensions

by Nick Ruff, Kirklees Unison branch chair (personal capacity)
Issue No. 2029

The intervention in the Local Government Pension Scheme by the minister for local government Phil Woolas was yet another example of New Labour’s contempt for those who support it.

Woolas’s circular outlining the proposed new pension scheme to be introduced on 1 April 2008 was dated 23 November 2006. This was the day after the lobby of parliament organised by all the unions involved in the dispute.

It was clearly drawn up before the lobby, yet Labour MP after Labour MP who was lobbied expressed sympathy and promised to contact Woolas.

Negotiators expressed a belief that the local governmet employers and the government were indicating that they were moving towards a negotiated settlement.

The intervention by Woolas and the government is a scornful dismissal of workers and their unions. At my Unison regional council—Yorkshire and Humberside—last Saturday, delegates expressed dismay at the latest developments. Those most loyal to the government did not hide their anger.

The proposals laid out in the circular from Woolas should be seen as “pay more for less”.

The proposals are:

  • No extension on the protection of the Rule of 85 beyond that already on the table of 2016.

  • A change in employees’ contributions from 6 percent to 5.5 percent on the first £12,000 earned, and 7.5 percent on earnings above £12,000. This will be reported to be a reduction for those on low incomes, but it must be remembered that most manual workers currently pay contributions at a protected 5 percent. The proposals average out at 6.3 percent.

  • A detrimental ill-health retirement scheme.

  • Reduced employers’ contributions.

  • Increase in the minimum retirement age.

The unions must oppose these proposals and begin the campaign for industrial action immediately. Any concessions that have been made from some even worse earlier plans are due to the continued resistance from union members.

In light of this, the meeting called by my branch on the day of the lobby takes on greater importance.

My branch, Kirklees, has successfully won the support of 92 branches representing over 300,000 members (37 percent of the revelant Unison membership) to call a special local government conference. We called a meeting at the lobby, which was attended by over 100 people.

We must now act together to ensure an industrial action ballot is called and won. Lay members must be involved in campaigning and deciding the programme of action that can win this dispute.

This will be greatly boosted if the special conference takes place in January before a ballot. We want delegates to the service group executive on 4 December and the national executive on 6 December to support such a strategy.

Unison leader Dave Prentis has said that if the government does not negotiate an acceptable new scheme, it will pay the price at the May elections.

We should take an early political step by endorsing John McDonnell in the Labour leadership election.

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