Thursday, February 22, 2007

LGPS "a good deal"???

I’ll write up my full report of yesterday’s meeting of the UNISON NEC later, but I think it is worth mentioning right away the gist of the discussion on the Local Government Pension Scheme.

The Head of Local Government reported back on the detail of discussions with the Government during the current consultation period, and confirmed that proposals to attack redundancy entitlements were to be dropped.

There has as yet been no movement on the question of contributions from part time employees, although the Equal Opportunities Commission have now weighed in on the side of the unions (which, we were told, effectively means on the side of UNISON as it is UNISON that is making all the running and doing all the work in the discussions).

However, on the question of protection of the rights of those who have lost out with the abolition of the “Rule of 85” our objective was described simply in terms of increasing protection and, it was reported that an extension of protection in full to all those who will turn 60 by April 2020 “would be a minimum for us.”

I think it is fair to say that no UNISON body has ever agreed that this is any sort of bottom line and I, for one, was a little angry. I expressed my view that if the final settlement of the LGPS dispute was on the basis of 2020 then this would have been a defeat – in effect we would have failed to achieve protection for the younger half of the scheme membership when that was precisely the issue on which we mobilised support for strike action last March.

This argument, and similar points put by colleagues on the NEC including John McDermott, Glenn Kelly and Roger Bannister drew two lines of response. On the one hand there were those who said that there was no “appetite” for further industrial action amongst the membership. Chris Tansley said that this was the view in Nottinghamshire amongst local government workers, whilst Gerry Gallagher reported that no police staff branches want to take further action and Stephen Mead indicated similar views amongst members in Higher Education.

Dave Prentis, on the other hand, offered a more upbeat route to a similar conclusion. He said that he was proud of the achievements of our negotiators and that the “deal” on the LGPS (i.e. the current proposals) was the best deal done for any of the public service pension schemes in the last three years.

So now we can see the shape of debate at the 6 March Special Conference. Those of us who think that we should be fighting for LGPS members to be treated no less favourably than members of other public service pension schemes will be told, on the one hand, that members do not want to fight on this issue and, on the other, that we are disgracefully undermining our negotiators and our Union by failing to laud the great achievements reflected in the proposals for the “new look” LGPS.

Of course there are significant positive aspects of the “new look” LGPS. The retention of a final salary scheme with improved accrual is a good thing. However it does seem to me that it would be less than honest to dress up as a victory an outcome which falls well short of the equitable treatment for current scheme members which has been a central demand.

Equally we have to accept that not all members are necessarily going to be gung ho for further strike action. Indeed it is never easy to persuade members to make the sacrifice of strike action. However, members were mobilised on a massive scale on 28 March last year. UNISON is more than capable of mounting the vigorous campaign amongst our own membership which would be required to secure support for the further substantial strike action which can win fair treatment for LGPS members.

The Kirklees branch have very sensibly arranged a fringe meeting on the evening of 5 March at which delegates from branches whose members do want to continue the struggle to defend pension rights can discuss how we go forward. This dispute needs to be put into the hands of the membership.

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