Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pensions dispute - members must decide

Looking back on this blog, I recollect that last time I was on strike to defend my pension, members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) had become isolated from all the other public service pension schemes, took a single day of strike action before “suspending” our action for further negotiations, and ended up with a Special Conference concluding we had got all we could. We had done well, but could have achieved more had we not backed away from further action and lost momentum.

It is, therefore, with a certain sense of déjà vu that I read Friday’s statement from the Secretaries of the trade union side of the National Joint Council concerning the recent negotiations with the Local Government Employers. From this we learn of discussions, which have not touched on the detail of a possible solution, but which, our lead negotiators “believe will lay a positive framework for negotiations, starting in January… ... and potentially could lead to no change until 2014.”

Details of what has been agreed won’t be in the public domain until Tuesday, but a number of employers have published their responses to the current statutory consultation – South Yorkshire Pension Authority are amongst those who make the suggestion that “the short-term changes be withdrawn and instead the proposed long-term changes brought forward by one year to April 2014.”

Since the same consultation response also offers “agreement that Normal Retirement Date should be tied to State Pension Age in the future but not before the new scheme is implemented” it isn’t necessarily the basis upon which, as an LGPS member, I would be hoping that the trade union side would want to proceed.

A framework for negotiations in England and Wales which accepted increases to the retirement date, or left the issue of the index to be used to uprate pensions to be resolved in court, would pose a serious challenge for our Scottish local government members, who struck solidly to resist these two changes, the Scottish Executive having already decided not to impose contribution increases.

I shall refrain from detailed comment until I have some details on which to comment, but I am concerned at the prospect that the Government might succeed in “dividing and ruling” the public sector, and also that we might make the mistake of demobilising our members during negotiations, instead of keeping up the action. This would amount to an unwelcome departure from the resolute leadership UNISON has shown to the pensions dispute over recent months.

As was reported to UNISON’s National Executive Council on 8 December, the negotiators in the different pension schemes need to continue to coordinate between themselves and “UNISON needs to build on the momentum of 30 November, keep the union prepared for any further action if necessary, and keep members - especially those who joined in the run-up to the dispute - involved in the campaign”.

All the relevant service group executives (SGEs) will meet in early January (Tuesday 10th I believe) to be updated on negotiations and plan for any future industrial action. UNISON members need to be fully informed of what is going on in negotiations, and we then need to take responsibility for conveying our views to the elected members of our SGEs, who will need to take decisions.

It is our elected lay SGEs who have the authority both to guide our negotiators and to determine our tactics in relation to industrial action. Branches face a real challenge to engage with our members on these issues over the holiday period, but it is a challenge to which we now need to rise.

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