Thursday, March 22, 2012

A report from UNISON's Health SGE about pensions

This is what you might call a "guest post" giving Karen Reissmann's report of yesterday's meeting of UNISON's Health Service Group Executive (SGE);

Report of special health executive 21st March on Pensions.

We discussed the offer in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
(For Scotland see later)

We were given choice of
 recommend accept in ballot
 say this is best we can achieve in negotiations
 no recommendation
 recommend reject in ballot
 reject the proposals and go straight to industrial action.

We voted in order

No-one voted for accept.

"Best we can achieve" was agreed (21 for, 10 against, 3 abst, I voted against)


Presentation from officers emphasised all the gains and used terms like "This is not perfect but ..." They were preoccupied with possible consequences of rejecting ie the government keep telling them if we do not agree it they will remove the Fair deal offer. But Fair Deal was never just for us. At the rate they want to privatise they need to offer pension to privatised staff or else it will collapse. The whole offer is based on 1% drop out.

Rejections by other unions were not noted for their size eg 96% Unite, 85% BMA, etc but by their turnout. They sounded more like the Tories than trade unionists.

Other health unions like RCN and BMA were criticised for not leading. They said they felt they were "kicking their reject ballots into the long grass to make it go away" (sounds familiar)

At one point it was suggested that Unite were never serious as they have not used 96% rejection to call more strike action (Despite Unite exec passing motion including "This union commits itself to maximising its support to the public sector members to participate in further action, including co-ordinated national strike action alongside other public sector unions in April..")

They kept referring to pensions being a "personal issue" that each member has to decide on its merits. Adrian O'Malley rightly replied personally most health workers would lose out. Also that we had not just fought on "I'm all right" but for decent pensions for all. Many on strike on 30th were not even in pensions scheme but know victory for us is more than pensions but a huge hole in the whole austerity package being driven through by Tory and Lib dem millionaires. It is no surprise that they are now on attack over national pay, on going pay freeze, jobs, cuts and NHS bill.

Many speakers commented that the deal is STILL PAY MORE, GET LESS AND WORK LONGER with a few gains made due to the strike. They refused to allow the words "these proposals still mean work longer, pay more, get less on any of the material going out.

Often people speaking in favour of this is the best we can do underplayed November 30th. But as Martin Benn said "We were told it was a success. We were there - it was a success and we need to lead our union to complete that success. Dave Prentis promised a fight not a skirmish."

What will happen now.

Ballot will be from 11th April to 27th April.

We complained that the first week is Easter holidays and the last week UNISON health conference when we are all away from our branches. The ballot finishes the day we get our first increased pension contribution in our wages. It is only 16 days. A cynic might think they were deliberately trying to demoralise us further with a low turnout! We tried to argue for an extension but they would not budge.

The question will be "do you accept the offer or reject. If you reject this will mean taking further and sustained industrial action."

We could win this dispute but to do that we need to return to being the union we were from June to November and put up a fight. It is clear the health executive and the officials are not prepared to lead that fight any more. However members can see what this government want from us and know this attack on pensions is only the start. They do want to undo all the gains made since 1945, undo the whole welfare state and its public sector workers.


Scotland are negotiating separately and have balloted with success for further action. They have already had strikes in Ayrshire on 13th and 14th March. They plan more action in Lanarkshire, Lothian and Glasgow on 27th March when legislation is going to the Scottish committee. They expect Labour MSPs to oppose the bill which means it goes to full parliament. They have talks scheduled for 28th march. If no progress they plan further strikes.

Wales health committee met this week and unanimously opposed the offer.

I am very grateful to Karen for her permission to republish this important report.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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