Thursday, December 15, 2011

Report from last week's UNISON NEC meeting on pensions

This is an initial personal report of last week's NEC circulated earlier this week by myself and fellow Greater London NEC member, Helen Davies.

An official report of the meeting is available online at http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7483.
 
The most important discussion at the meeting of our National Executive Council (NEC) on Thursday 8 December concerned the pensions dispute and our assessment of the action on 30 November and what we should do next.

We are therefore circulating this report (about that debate) now and will cover other issues in a subsequent report.

Our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, led the debate on pensions and commenced with the observation that 30 November had been the proudest moment of his career. He stressed the work that had been done by many members, activists, officials and employees over many months.

We had cleaned up our membership data so that we had faced no legal challenges and had balloted first so as to set the scene for all the smaller ballots which came after us. We had also won the argument for there to be a multitude of demonstrations across the UK rather than a single national demonstration.

Our action on 30 November had led to a reopening of negotiations by the Government and employers. Teaching unions had been invited to talks the day after the strike and civil servants on the following day. There had been discussions with the local government employers since the strike and in the health service on the day before - and the day of - the NEC.

The General Secretary made clear that we had rejected the "offer" from Andrew Lansley to stall pension contribution increases for lower paid health workers for just one year (at the expense of other health workers!) He made clear that the dispute would be directed following a meeting at the TUC on 15 December (which he will chair) and that negotiations on the four main pension schemes (health, local government, teachers and civil servants) will be coordinated so we don't get picked off one by one.

The Chair of our Policy Committee, who also chairs the Service Group Liaison Committee (SGLC), then reported from a lengthy meeting of the SGLC on the previous day. It was vital that we maintained the momentum and enthusiasm from 30 November and to do this we needed to increase, rather than simply maintain, our communication with our members.

The negotiations which had started since the strike were at a preliminary stage and it was too soon to "name a date" for further action if we were to maintain the vital unity of the trade unions. However, we need all Service Groups to bring forward their meetings to early January, leading to a further "pensions summit" very early in the New Year. An extended meeting of the Service Group Liaison Committee is scheduled for 11 January to consider progress in negotiations and options for further industrial action.

We also need Regions to convene urgent meetings of Regional Service Groups and (where, as in London, they exist) Regional Service Group Liaison Committees so that the views of members can be fed into the debate about "what we do next" if we do not secure adequate concessions from the Government (which seems unlikely).

Subsequent discussion focused on minor disagreements since no one needed to reiterate the overwhelming support for the essence of what had been said. One school of thought (with which we had sympathy) was to "name the day" - or at least the month - for further all-out national action.

The contrary view was not to go for further all-out national action "too soon". This was reinforced by those who felt that - constitutionally - the NEC ought not to seek to direct our autonomous Service Group Executives (SGEs).
 
There was also some discussion about other options for action short of all-out national action, such as regional rolling programmes of all-out action, selective (or so-called "smart") action and action short of strike action. No compelling case was made for these more limited forms of action.

In the end, in line with the ruling of our President, the NEC did not take a vote about this, but there was clearly a consensus to support the implicit need for further strike action should the Government not back down.

It is equally clear that we need branch activists engaged in campaigning amongst our members for support for further action should that be required. It is vitally important that we do not lose momentum in this dispute through December.

Right now we can encourage members to sign the e-petition against the attack on uprating of future pensions and can also urge members to lobby their MPs to support us in seeking meaningful negotiations to resolve the dispute.

Here are the relevant links to pass on to UNISON members in branches;

For information about how to challenge the change from using the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the less generous Consumer Price Index (CPI) to uprate our pensions once we retire go to http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/popchallenge.asp and sign the e-petition online at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/1535. There are already more than 95,000 signatures and we need 100,000 for a debate in Parliament.

For details of the Early Day Motion (EDM) tabled by Dave Anderson MP, calling for meaningful negotiations to resolve the pension dispute, and which you can ask your MP to sign go to http://www.unison.org.uk/labourlink/pages_view.asp?did=13813. You can read the EDM itself at http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/2228 and also read a list of the MPs who have signed it. If your MP has not yet signed the EDM you can contact them to ask them to do so. To contact your MP (or find out who they are if you don't know) go to http://www.theyworkforyou.com/.

Our Region clearly needs to call new and additional meetings for branches ahead of existing timetables, so that we can discuss how to defend our pensions, following the lead of our national union.
 
Best wishes,
 
Helen Davies
Branch Chair, Barnet UNISON
UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) member Greater London Region
 
Jon Rogers,
Branch Secretary, UNISON Lambeth local government branch
UNISON National Executive Council (NEC) member Greater London Region
 


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