Friday, April 20, 2012

Pensions discussions at the UNISON Centre

Today's meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (NEC), and yesterday's meetings of various NEC Committees were to deal with "Conference business only" - so various routine business (such as the NEC report on internal disciplinary matters or the Development and Organisation Committee report on branches under regional supervision) were not dealt with.

One subject which did crop up in various ways, as you might imagine, was the pensions dispute. Although not formally on the agenda, it arose several times. Since I have other work to do before I can write up my full report, I thought I would share this information quickly now, as it would be - without doubt - the information of most significance to most UNISON members from today's meeting of our Union's ruling body.

First, when the NEC considered the draft of our Annual Report to Conference, questions arose about what it had to say on the pensions issue. Karen Reissmann felt that the report should do more to acknowledge the detrimental changes to normal retirement ages which are central to the "final offer" in health.

In the course of the subsequent discussion discussion one of our Assistant General Secretaries divulged more information than I had heard previously about the negotiations relating to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS). We weren't asked to treat this information as confidential.

It appears that the Government have concerns about the costs of the "low cost option" (which is, it would appear, part of the "deal" submitted to the Government by the unions and employers on 13 February). They have costings from the Government Actuaries Department (GAD) with which we (our negotiators) disagree and GAD have been sent away to look at this again.

Apparently we now expect to hear more from the Government within the next couple of days - but having heard this before (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/shall-we-be-pickled-tomorrow.html?m=1) I won't be holding my breath and wouldn't recommend anyone else does unless they want direct experience of the scheme's "death in service" benefits.

The second occasion on which the question of the pensions dispute arose was when the NEC came to consider its views on the prioritisation of Conference motions. There was a lively debate as to where, in that list of priorities, the NEC Motion on pensions should come. In the context of this discussion I said that, since the NEC priorities became a matter of public record, the NEC should be mindful of how our expressed priorities would be viewed elsewhere in the union.

At this I was put right by the Chair of our Policy Committee, who said that the priorities communicated to the Standing Orders Committee (SOC) by the NEC were private and would not be published.
This was a little odd since, as I pointed out, we had published our priorities last year (http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=12804).

Also, as I didn't point out, this is what we had done the previous year (http://www.unison.org.uk/activists/pages_view.asp?did=11040).

On balance then, if its readers will accept the risk that once I've told them I may have to kill them, I'll publish the NEC Conference priorities in the full report which I'll prepare over the weekend (unless - in line with current practice - the official report includes this information, in which case I can just link to it).

(In the mean time, don't say I told you, but Pensions (Motion 14) was the tenth of twelve prioritised motions.)(Shhhh...)

The third and final occasion on which the harsh reality of the pensions dispute intruded onto our NEC agenda came courtesy of Moz Greenshields who managed to raise, as a "matter arising" from the minutes of the previous meeting, the question of whether UNISON would send a message of support to those unions planning strike action over pensions on 10 May.

Initially we were told that - officially - we knew nothing about this as the unions concerned either hadn't been at the relevant meeting at the TUC or hadn't been clear what they would be doing.

After some further discussion, in which it was pointed out that PCS (http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/id/A0A17653-77CF-4975-8FD72BFD6605C1A3) and UNITE (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news__events/latest_news/health_workers_to_step_up_pens.aspx) were clearly planning strike action, the General Secretary confirmed that UNISON will send a message of support to sister unions taking strike action - once it was clear that this was what they would be doing.

As this was the last substantive business of the meeting I would like to tell you that we then finished the meeting with a rousing chorus of "Solidarity Forever" but I regret that we did not.

I'll blog a fuller report once it is written.
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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