Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pensions and Equality - the case against haste

The useful website of UNISON's London Ambulance Service Branch has a link to the proposed Agreement on the 2015 NHS Pension Scheme (http://news.lasunison.eu/?p=559). This is to be considered by the Health Service Group Executive (SGE) on 21 March.

Reading the Agreement throws up a new - and very important - question touching upon the timetable for trade union decisionmaking about the proposed Agreement.

Annex F to the Agreement deals with the vital question of conducting an Equality Impact Assessment of the new scheme. The Annex clearly applies equally to the other unfunded schemes and indicates that the following approach will be taken;

• The equality impact assessments will be conducted by the relevant sponsoring departments. In addition, the Government will conduct a central analysis in order to compare and assess the impact across all of the schemes.

• The timescale for the assessment is pressing, and the process must be completed in good time to allow the analysis to influence decision making and the conclusion of the policy development process, prior to the introduction of legislation. Departments will therefore aim to complete the EIAs by the end of May 2012.

• The Government will then complete the central analysis over the following four weeks.

• The central working group will meet in June to discuss the analysis and consider any further action.

UNISON takes the question of equality impact assessments very seriously. Our guidance to our local government branches (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/AA9891.pdf) states; "It is an overriding principle that UNISON avoids entering into an arrangement that introduces or extends inequality as a result of a cuts package. Care must be taken in agreeing to changes in collective agreements or employer action to change contracts of employment."

"UNISON's policy is that cuts in jobs, terms and conditions, and restructuring should be regarded as having 'high relevance' and be fully impact assessed."

"The (general equality) duty is complied with before and at the time that a particular policy is under consideration and a decision is taken. A public authority cannot satisfy the duty by justifying a decision after it has been taken."

In other words, UNISON rightly tells our branches to use the public sector equality duty to insist that employers carry out, and consult upon, equality impact assessments in advance of decisions about, amongst other things, pay and conditions (and therefore pensions).

UNISON's guidance is founded on case law relating to an earlier equality duty, equally relevant today (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2008/2062.html); "The jurisprudence relative to the issues reinforces the importance of considering the impact of any proposed policy before it is adopted... ...The need for advanced consideration must be distinguished from the use of such impact assessments for a rearguard action following a concluded decision... ...What is important is that (an) equality impact assessment should be an integral part of the formation of a proposed policy, not justification for its adoption... ...Time is needed to consider the impact of any assessment. The suggestion that a policy can be adopted contingent on such assessment smacks - of policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy."

In other words, referring to my English-Judge Judge-English Dictionary, consideration of the public sector equality duty must precede decision-making. It is not consistent with the public sector equality duty to agree a policy on the basis that you'll do an equality impact assessment later and revise the policy if you must.

So how could we possibly ballot our members in health on the 2015 Pension Scheme before the Equality Impact Assessment had been carried out?

How could the SGE make a recommendation to members without knowing the outcome of such an assessment?

If we seriously mean our advice to our branches about the importance of equality impact assessments (and I believe we do) then we cannot make ourselves hypocrites by failing to follow our own advice about something as centrally important as the NHS Pension Scheme.

That would contravene our "overriding principle that UNISON avoids entering into an arrangement that introduces or extends inequality" because we would not have the evidence from the equality impact assessment before taking our decision.

Surely the SGE must conclude that we cannot recommend changes to a pension scheme concerning which no equality impact assessment has yet been undertaken?

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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