Socialist Worker

Local government workers should say ‘no deal’ over pensions

by John McDermott, Unison local government service group executive (pc)
Issue No. 2002

Local government workers should flood their union leaders with protests over the latest proposals to end the confrontation over pensions.

The Unison union held a briefing session for representatives of all service group executives affected by the dispute.

The current position is that the government is minded to consult on the following changes to existing regulations and lay amendments before the summer parliamentary recess:

  • Delaying until 31 March 2008 the implementation of the abolition of the rule of 85, which presently allows some local government workers to retire at 60 if they have 25 year’s service for all existing scheme members.

  • Extending until 31 March 2016 the rights given under the rule of 85 for existing members, and letting some of these rights taper off to 2020.

So anyone over 50 this September would have their rights protected, those aged between 46 and 50 would get some protection, and those under 46 (and all new workers) would have all their rights under the rule of 85 withdrawn.

Retaining

Documents submitted at the briefing suggested that senior members of the employers’ Local Government Association indicated they would accept these changes.

After the briefing a special local government service group executive was convened.

Some of its members made clear that this proposal fell well short of the current conference position of retaining the rule of 85 for all existing and new staff.

It also fell short of the negotiators’ position of just retaining the rule for existing staff only.

A motion was submitted calling for rejection of this offer and renewed industrial action.

An amendment was submitted to delay the decision on this until the next service group executive on 8 June. This was passed.

In my opinion these proposals are simply tinkering around the edges of the issue in dispute and do not offer any basis for an agreement that we should be considering.

It is clear that we are negotiating within the boundaries set by the employers.

We should make it clear to the negotiators, employers and government that this is not acceptable.

It would be a great mistake to get caught up in detailed talks about fine specifications of the scheme without looking at the bigger picture.

On 28 March, up to 1.5 million local government workers struck to defend the rule of 85.

Yet now there are some in the union leadership who would recommend that we accept a deal which is qualitatively worse than the one agreed for the NHS, the civil service and by teachers.

Conditions

That agreement defended all present workers but created a two-tier workforce with much worse conditions for future workers.

The proposals we were briefed on last week do not even begin to defend all present workers.

Unison recruited nearly 50,000 members above its normal level of recruitment in the run-up to the 28 March strike.

There is a terrible danger that we will lose them – and more – if a bad deal is agreed.

It is extraordinary that the union has never challenged the original assumptions about the valuation of the financial “crisis” in our pension scheme.

We should be saying that any shortfall is the employers’ responsibility and they must make it up. The next meeting of the service group executive is very close to Unison’s local government conference, which begins on 18 June.

This conference should make any decisions and guide the approach if the talks have not been completed.

If the service group executive were to accept the proposals on offer, it would be completely against our clearly expressed conference policy.

Many members feel that the union leaders are putting “good relations” with Labour before the need to fight for our members’ pensions.

Every trade unionist is watching this dispute. After the tremendous success of 28 March, and the confidence it created, we must not sell our members short.


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Article information

News
Tue 23 May 2006, 17:51 BST
Issue No. 2002
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