Socialist Worker

Unions must act to stop the attacks on pensions

by Nick Ruff
Issue No. 2020

Over one million workers took part in a one-day strike on 23 March this year over the government’s unilateral decision to get rid of the “rule of 85”.

This is the facility to retire at 60 if someone has 25 years or more in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS).

Workers across different trade unions made 23 March one of the biggest strikes in British trade union history and scared the living daylights out of the government and employers.

However, on Monday the “rule of 85” will no longer be on the statute book. Workers in the scheme in Wales and England have not even got adequate protection provisions.

Not one further act of resistance has been called by the unions as members have been left to guess what is happening to their pensions.

The unions suspended the action that was planned after 23 March and for local election day in May as talks on protection for existing members were offered.

Nothing has really happened apart from a few more crumbs being offered on protection.

On 18 and 19 September the unions took the employers and the government to a judicial review to challenge their legal arguments about why the “rule of 85” had to go.

The unions also asked why protection could not be given for all existing members.

The outcome of this will be known in early October and the unions are quietly confident.

The government’s arguments on discrimination and affordability were as weak as we always believed.

However, the outcome of the judicial review will not end the government’s attacks on our pensions as can be seen from the options circulated by the government on a new LGPS from 1 April 2008.

This has been portrayed as a consultation process but the five options put forward are all that can be considered.

It is hard to even ascertain whether the unions have negotiations arranged on the matter.

The options all propose major changes to the LGPS. Option B has been reported as the one preferred by the unions.

This proposes an end to the automatic payment of a lump sum along with an annual pension, and increased contributions.

It does allow members to transfer some of their annual pension into a lump sum but it certainly does not represent an improvement on the current scheme.

However, it is the likelihood of contributions being increased to 9 percent from 5 or 6 percent for many manual workers on protection that makes the proposed new schemes unacceptable.

The schemes that do have a shortfall are due to employers having pension holidays in the 1980s and 1990s and not because people live longer.

The employers’ contributions will be frozen at a rate less than they are generally now.

The government is proposing to remove local authorities’ power in England and Wales to grant added compensatory years where someone is made redundant.

The unions must do something about this.

My Unison union branch in Kirklees has taken the decision to call a special local government conference to discuss the fight to defend our pensions.

We have written to every Unison branch in local government to ask if they will support the following motion: “We request a special local government service group conference to discuss the current situation in the local government pensions dispute, under rule D.3.4.11.”

The motion has to be submitted to Unison’s general secretary. The motion has to be supported by branches representing 25 percent of the membership and it has to be done by the beginning of November.

This position was agreed by the Yorkshire and Humberside regional local government group and branches such as Bradford and Hull said they would support the motion.

The Unison service group executive voted last week by 24 votes to one to have a reconvened conference. The national executive must now take a decision about this.

The Unison local government group represents 800,000 workers. The lack of action by the unions has meant that the mood to fight in March, which saw almost 50,000 join Unison, has been diluted.

But my branch is convinced that with a campaign and members’ knowledge of what is on offer for April 2008 more strikes will be supported as well as, if not better than, in March.

If you pass the motion or wish to discuss it further please ring Kirklees Unison on 01484 223 577.

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Article information

Sat 30 Sep 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 2020
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