Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pensions - time for action!

My report to London UNISON Branches from yesterday's meeting of the UNISON's National Executive Council didn't get written yesterday as I was a bit busy (http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/feb/23/protesters-occupy-lambeth-hall-cuts?cat=society&type=article).

I'll blog a couple of key points ahead of writing up the full report, of which I think a quick note about the debate on pensions may be most important of all. The introduction to the discussion by General Secretary Dave Prentis was markedly more left wing than the written report circulated before the meeting, in that he referred repeatedly to the prospect of industrial action, a topic which was largely absent from the report.

Dave's focus on the need for national strike action to defend public service pensions found an echo across the NEC.

I was particularly interested in contributions from colleagues in the health service who made the point that, in recent years, the "pay as you go" (unfunded) NHS pension scheme has routinely taken in more in contributions than it has paid out in pensions. Far from basking in the reflected glow of so-called "gold plated" pensions, low-paid health workers have been subsidising the Treasury by paying in more than is required to pay the (hardly generous) pensions of retired colleagues.

Yet the Government want to levy an average 3% "increased pension contribution" or (as James Anthony put it) a 3% tax for working in the public sector.

In the case of the (funded) Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) the Treasury are carrying out this theft from the (largely low paid) members of the scheme by taking £900 Million away from local authorities in England and Wales - increased contributions will be needed to cover this shortfall which has been deliberately created by an act of pension vandalism by the Tories.

Even the Tory-dominated local authority employers are up in arms about this theft - which could see an exodus of scheme members, threatening a massive future bill for future means-tested benefits and worsening pensioner poverty for a generation.

All of this comes on top of an estimated 15% reduction in the value of our pensions as a result of the decision, announced in June, to uprate pensions from April in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than Retail Price Index (RPI).

And - of course - we are still awaiting the Hutton report.

There is no doubt that if we can communicate effectively to our members the scale of the attack upon our pensions we can win overwhelming support for united national industrial action.

There are practical and logistical difficulties - and Dave Prentis said that it is because of these that UNISON is arguing for a later date for the commencement of action than are some other unions. However, we overcame these difficulties in 2006 to defend the LGPS and we can do so again.

I argued at the NEC that the welcome tone of Dave's report was long overdue and that we now need to move as swiftly as possible. Every cut, every redundancy, shifts the balance of power incrementally away from us and in favour of the Tories - yet at the same time the infant Coalition Government are still finding their feet (as demonstrated most recently by the U turn on the forests).

The time is now for national action on pensions. (And the time is before noon tomorrow for motions to UNISON Local Government Conference).

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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