Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pensions - how to ignore Conference policy and disregard Equality

This is an update to UNISON colleagues which has been shared with me today, in connection with the continuing non-appearance of the Equality Impact Assessment into the proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014);
 
"The LGPS Project Team (negotiators) met yesterday to consider the draft EIA commissioned. We have provided the external agency with further information to enable them to expand the EIA and provide us with a further draft.
 
In the meantime we are confident that the actual earnings contributions of part-time workers, the freeze in contributions for 95% of members, the more progressive contribution bandings , the 50/50 scheme and the right to retain membership of the scheme on transfer all constitute significant improvements which will be of benefit to part-time workers, women and the low paid."

I don't doubt that our negotiators are sincere, but that isn't enough to bring the actions of our officials in line with our Conference policy. UNISON's Local Government Conference in Bournemouth in June unanimously agreed Emergency Motion 5, which stated that "Conference notes that proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) were released on 31 May 2012. UNISON's Equality Scheme includes an action plan which includes (within the Local Government Service Group section) Ref LG 12 which states that it is our target that "All future regulatory changes proposed to the LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) are equality impact-assessed". Conference therefore calls for the publication of a full equality impact assessment of the LGPS 2014 Proposals prior to any ballot of members in the Local Government Service Group."

Since officials are under instruction energetically to cajole activists (other than in the Higher Education Service Group) to campaign for "policy" set by their Service Group Executives (SGEs) - even though there is no "policy" until the ballot results are in and this action by officials contravenes UNISON Rule B.2.5 - it is worth noting that the recommendation from the Local Government SGE, since it is made in a ballot taking place contrary to Service Group Conference policy, can provide no basis for such improper pressure upon branches and activists.

The disappointing failure of our officials to implement the unanimous decision of our Local Government Service Group Conference says something a little dispiriting about respect for lay democracy in our trade union.

However, it says something even less encouraging about the seriousness with which our senior national officials believe that Equality Impact Assessments (EIAs) should be taken.

In our branches we rightly press for full EIAs prior to consideration of changes to our conditions of service - in line with national guidance we are encouraged to refer to legal decisions which have established principles such as;

"The 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," and;

"Consideration of the need to advance equality forms an integral part of the decision-making process. The duty must be exercised in such a way that it influences the final decision."

What will a branch say in future to an employer pressing them to ballot members on a detrimental changes to conditions without the employer having completed an EIA when the employer observes that UNISON was content to ballot our members on the LGPS (with a recommendation to accept) without having seen the EIA which our own Conference called for?

For those interested in such matters, the Rules being breached now in the conduct of the LGPS Ballot include B.1.2, B.2.2, B.2.5 and D.3.4.2. None of these Rules are being breached by branches or activists, all are being breached by national officials.

Were I not relaxing on holiday I might be just the tiniest bit angry.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Perils of mobile blogging

I am posting this simply to see how long it takes to publish, having experienced some recent delays. I shall take this opportunity to squash the silly rumour that, having read recent correspondence to UNISON branches in relation to the LGPS, a prankster has raised the flag of Peoples' Korea in front of the UNISON Centre.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, July 27, 2012

Holiday blogging - Help find a rare species!

Slightly off topic, but I'm off with my kids to a caravan park near a nature reserve, where we may be able to spot a rare creature long predicted to arrive in England this month, but still not yet sighted.



You can help!



Look out for sightings here (http://www.unison.org.uk/pensions/lgps.asp) or here (http://www.lgps.org.uk/lge/core/page.do?pageId=15431012).



What is it we're looking out for?



The Ouslum Bird?



The Pushmepullyou?



No, better than either of those. What we are waiting for is...



The Equality Impact Assessment on the proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), which we were promised (at Local Government Conference in June) we would see before the ballot opens on Tuesday.



I understand it's still expected before Tuesday. I believe it has a long journey and must have run into trouble in its lengthy migration.



When it arrives on these shores it can be expected to be subject to detailed and thorough analysis by experts who may be able to pronounce (within as little as 24 hours) that it is a fabulous creature with wonderful plumage, which demonstrates that LGPS 2014 will do wonders for equality (just like holding a ballot in the summer holidays).



Keep your eyes peeled twitchers (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birdwatching)! (or is that tweeters?)



Regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) may sense that I am now truly demob-happy.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misinformation about UNISON Rules, and a heavy handed approach, threatens internal strife


It’s lovely to get a reply from a UNISON national official. Today I was given the following (regrettably incorrect) advice about the meaning of UNISON’s Rules in relation to the current ballot on the Local Government Pension Scheme;

“As a Branch Secretary and NEC member you are required to follow the established policy of the union and are bound by our approach to collective responsibility outlined in paragraphs 3.1, 3.2 and 4.2 of the Democracy Guidelines, which read as follows:

" 3.1 Once a policy is established it is important that all constituent parts of the union work together to promote it and take collective responsibility in supporting it.

3.2 This principle was reinforced by the 1998 National Delegate Conference which decided that:

"There is an obligation on branches, regions and the NEC to promote existing policy and to accept collective responsibility once the decisions have been democratically taken. Once policy has been agreed by democratic means at an appropriate level, all members should expect that those who may not have agreed with the decision establishing policy but were in a minority should not be able to simply withdraw it. Such action would undermine the whole principle of collective strength and solidarity which the democracy of the union is established to promote. Democracy cannot thrive if agreed policies count for nothing. Outside bodies should not be able to seek to undermine the established and agreed policies of the union."

4.2 Branches, regions and other bodies of the union will often be called upon to take action in support of particular policies. It is important that when this happens the union acts effectively and consistently in accordance with transparent and robust democratic principles."

This is reinforced by the advice given in LGPS POP 22 from the Code of Good Branch Practice 4.4 which calls on branches to promote the recommendation of their Service Group:

"Once UNISON policy is determined, there is an obligation on all constituent parts of the union to work to achieve its objectives by campaigning and promoting the policy."

Furthermore, the Code of Good Branch Practice at 4.1 (last bullet point) also states:

"Once policy has been agreed democratically at any level in the union, those members who originally voted or campaigned against it are expected to abide by it. It is important that all constituent parts of the union and branch work together to promote it and support it."

WHAT CONSTITUTES 'POLICY'?
What constitutes 'policy' and who can decide it is clearly outlined in the UNISON Rule Book.

Rule D 3.1.4 says that:

"Each Service group shall have autonomy, on behalf of its members, to:-
 .1 determine the Group's general policy"

Rule D 3.5.1 also makes clear the role of the Service Group Executive:
" Subject to the powers of the Group Conference, the overall control of the Group's policy, budget and the direction of the Group's operations shall be the responsibility of the Group Executive."

As you know, this year's Local Government Conference agreed Emergency Composite 5 and in doing so agreed "to ensure the fullest possible participation and representative decision making" on the LGPS proposals to inform the SGE's recommendation. In the case of the Local Government SGE, an overwhelming majority of branches recommended acceptance of the proposals and the decision of the SGE followed the views of branches and was to recommend acceptance.

It is clear from the above that the decision taken by the Local Government SGE on 19 July constitutes "policy" and that this policy should be followed by Local Government branches.

In the light of the clear position outlined above, I would ask you to ensure that further communications and meetings with/in your branch adhere to union policy.”

Fortunately, I have made a close study of the UNISON Rule Book over the years and have participated, in one way or another, in every Conference debate on this topic. I don't therefore have to rely upon this partial (in every sense) reading of guidance which does not have the force of Rule.

The official who spent such a long time composing the above misinformation failed to take heed of Rule B.2.5 which commits UNISON “to promote and safeguard the rights of members to have an adequate opportunity to participate in the initiation and development of policy making, through meetings, delegations, conferences or ballots, and to encourage the maximum democratic debate, together with the right to campaign to change policy, while at all times acting within the rules and agreed policy.”

In this case the mechanism for policy development is a ballot and therefore there can be no “agreed policy” until we have the outcome of the ballot. This position was affirmed by National Delegate Conference in 2008 which supported “the right of UNISON members, branches and other appropriate representative bodies to make and campaign within Rule for recommendations in member ballots.” (http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=998614).

Since the meaning of the Rule Book of a trade union is what it is (and not what a particular official may tell you it is) and since the UNISON National Delegate Conference (“The supreme government of the Union” in accordance with Rule D.1.1) has, by clear implication, offered a clear understanding of the meaning of Rule B.2.5 in these circumstances I shall continue “to encourage the maximum democratic debate” and refuse to act as a mouthpiece for a recommendation which is not (yet) a policy.

You can read the Rule Book for yourself at http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/20975.pdf.

The heavy-handed approach to dissenting branches which is being taken by a number of officials threatens to turn a legitimate and comradely debate about the advisability of accepting the LGPS 2014 proposals into a series of set-piece battles about trade union democracy which will take up our time to next year’s Conference and beyond. I would very much regret such an outcome which would be a distraction from our preparation for the vitally important demonstration on 20 October (http://www.unison.org.uk/20102012/).

This choice needs to made at the UNISON Centre.

Incidentally, the correct interpretation of our Rules which I offer above would apply equally to branches in the Higher Education Service Group wishing to campaign for acceptance against the recommendation of their Service Group Executive to reject (and I would love to see the advice given to branches such as Bromley who have members in both the Local Government and Higher Education Service Groups...)


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Should an Equality Impact Assessment be summer holiday reading?


UNISON’s Local Government Conference in Bournemouth in June unanimously agreed Emergency Motion 5, which stated that “Conference notes that proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) were released on 31 May 2012. UNISON’s Equality Scheme includes an action plan which includes (within the Local Government Service Group section) Ref LG 12 which states that it is our target that "All future regulatory changes proposed to the LGPS (Local Government Pension Scheme) are equality impact-assessed". Conference therefore calls for the publication of a full equality impact assessment of the LGPS 2014 Proposals prior to any ballot of members in the Local Government Service Group.”

UNISON’s interim guidance on how to use employers’ equality duties to protect jobs and conditions (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/AA9891.pdf) makes the sound point (at section 5 on page 17) that principles established under the previous specific equality duties continue to apply now (in particular The 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,” and “Consideration of the need to advance equality forms an integral part of the decision-making process. The duty must be exercised in such a way that it influences the final decision.”)

The duty to equality impact assess the Regulations which will introduce any new LGPS will fall upon the Government. The equality duties imposed upon local authorities will also be relevant to how they play their part in implementing any such Regulations. The Union does not have any legal duty to carry out an equality impact assessment.

We do, however, have a clear Conference decision that an equality impact assessment of the LGPS 2014 proposals should be published prior to any ballot of members, which opens in six days time.

The letter of the Conference decision can still be satisfied, but it is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Conference decision for such an important document to become available only at the eleventh hour. In common with many other activists I’m on leave now until after the ballot opens so, if I have a chance to read the Equality Impact Assessment of the proposals for our pension scheme it will have to be on the beach.

It’s an interesting contrast, for a branch activist, between the fairly relaxed approach being taken to the equality impact assessment in respect of this massive change involving the majority of our members when compared with the very vigorous approach taken by the national union to ensuring that equality impact assessments had been thoroughly considered well in advance of any member ballot on Single Status.

Pants on fire?


What follows is an email thread between myself and a senior national official of UNISON (copied to two senior elected lay representatives). This relates to an obvious inaccuracy which I pointed out in the Union’s main leaflet on the LGPS 2014 proposals, which wrongly states that the revaluation rate proposed for the scheme was predetermined by the Coalition Government, whereas (as anyone who has been following the negotiations would know) they were part of the outcome of the negotiations. You can read the leaflet online at http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/20840.pdf.

This error is not the most significant problem in relation to the LGPS proposals, but I have been very frustrated at the refusal of officials to respond to what has been a perfectly reasonable question. As a result, UNISON continues knowingly to issue and distribute a leaflet containing an obvious material inaccuracy. There is (of course) a word that can be used to describe those who knowing disseminate untruth.

----- Original Message -----
From: Rogers, Jon
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 04:31 PM
To:
Cc:
Subject: Re: Four week old query

Can I expect a reply to my original question at any point before I am entitled to claim an unreduced pension?

----- Original Message -----
From: Rogers, Jon
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 03:39 PM
To:
Cc:
Subject: Re: Four week old query

That doesn't explain why you lied in the leaflet about the Coalition Government having predetermined the revaluation rate.

Nor why you have avoided answering my question on this point for a month.

At the least that was terrible incompetence.

I hope that anything we publish will honestly take account of the impact of our having conceded the change to the pension age.

----- Original Message -----
From:
Sent: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 03:32 PM
To: Rogers, Jon
Cc:
Subject: RE: Four week old query

Jon

Further calculations comparing the schemes, using average earnings and 1/60 will be placed on the Pension site tomorrow. As you will see, the LGPS 2014 still delivers the best results. Sorry!

-----Original Message-----
From: Rogers, Jon
Sent: 24 July 2012 15:19
To:
Cc:
Subject: Re: Four week old query

I'm on leave now but would still appreciate the courtesy of a response.

----- Original Message -----
From: Rogers, Jon
Sent: Monday, July 23, 2012 09:12 AM
To:
Cc:
Subject: Four week old query

I wrote to you on 27 June as follows;

"I was disappointed to see that in the glossy leaflet summarising the LGPS 2014 proposals the following text is included‪ ‪

'Inflation link for revaluation‪ ‪-CPI revaluation rate - as laid down by the coalition before the current negotiations' ‪


This is completely wrong. The Treasury document published on 2 November proposed "an accrual rate of 1/60ths and earnings indexation for benefits while still working in the public service". This was the "reference scheme" and it did not include a revaluation rate of CPI but of Average Weekly Earnings (AWE) (estimated by GAD to be CPI+2.25% as we know).‪ ‪


Before I distribute any of these leaflets to members please can you explain to me why we are claiming that the coalition "laid down" a CPI revaluation rate "before the current negotiations". Please direct me to the ministerial statement or Treasury or DCLG document which substantiates this claim.‪"


You have not yet replied.

When, as an NEC member, I asked the same question at the NEC on 11 July I was told that, as you were on leave, there was no one else at the UNISON Centre who could answer the question.

I am therefore writing now to request a response to the fairly simple question I asked four weeks ago.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

UNISON officials seek to stifle pensions debate

The same national officials who have failed to respond to requests to correct a blatant untruth in the main national leaflet describing the LGPS 2014 proposals have now issued a disgraceful circular misrepresenting UNISON's Rules and Democracy guidelines in an attempt to bully into silence those branches and activists who disagree with the recommendation to accept the proposals.

As I explained in the previous post in this blog, UNISON Conference has explicitly affirmed the right of branches to make and campaign for recommendations in national ballots. This is in line with the principle of maximum debate before policy is decided and unity in action once it has been.

When we ballot our members, as in the case of LGPS 2014, then that ballot is the mechanism by which policy is decided. Therefore, during the ballot, policy has not been determined and members and branches are, as our National Delegate Conference has affirmed, at liberty to make their own recommendations.

Yet today a bulletin has been circulated from the UNISON Centre purporting to instruct branches that they must campaign exclusively for the recommendation of "their" Service Group Executive. (This is not simply a wilful misreading of UNISON Rules and guidelines it is also laughable in that it can hardly apply to branches with members in more than one Service Group.)

I don't believe that this is a serious threat to take action against those of us who are campaigning for rejection, as that would be absurd (and I would have to be the first to face such action!) I think that the officials who wrote the circular know full well that they are acting outside our Conference policy and issuing unenforceable edicts.

The purporse of this sorry little circular is to discourage those branches who have clear policy in favour of rejection from campaigning amongst their own members for their own policy by attempting to mislead activists about their rights under Rule and strike fear into the hearts of those acting in accordance with their rights. This abuse of process is a classic example of bullying.

If national officials really believed that they had done a good deal they would obviously not seek to stifle debate in this way, which shames all those associated with it. I have made a complaint to the General Secretary about this and would encourage other members to do likewise.

Dave Prentis made clear that the eventual decision would be made by our members in a ballot, and the integrity of that position will be undermined if the bullying approach of the authors of today's shabby little circular is allowed to stand.

The circular breaches UNISON Rules and should be withdrawn.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Monday, July 23, 2012

LGPS - it's still up to the members to decide (and I hope they reject!)

As the summer holiday dawns I'll get back to the blogging that I have been neglecting. I want to use this post to explain why it is both legitimate and appropriate for UNISON branches (and members) to continue to campaign for the rejection of the LGPS 2014 proposals in the forthcoming all member ballot.

First, however, I shall take the liberty of quoting verbatim from the excellent report of John McLoughlin of last week's UNISON Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE) meeting. UNISON activists in London local government branches will have seen this already.

This is John's message to branches; " 
The Local Government Service Group Executive met on Thursday 19 July to consider a recommendation on the proposals for the LGPS from April 2014.
 
Before the meeting SGE reps were provided with a report on the results of the consultation with branches.
 
The Regional Head of Local Government offered to meet with SGE members but in the event was not able to.
 
I suggested that the results of the consultation should have gone to a Regional Local Govt Exec or at least the Chair and Vice Chair so that SGE members could be fully informed of views expressed through our democratic lay structures.
 
I consulted with the Chair and Vice Chair of the RLG committee and agreed that a proper interpretation of the result of the consultation would be to vote for a recommendation to reject the proposals.
 
This was based on a number of factors:
 
1)     The consultation report revealed a majority of those members who took part in consultation to reject 1009 - 724, that is 56.9% of those who expressed a     preference.
2)     In terms of branches 12 were reported for rejection and 9 for acceptance - but this this does not give any weighting to the wide disparities in size of branches - the biggest branch replying for example has 4457 members and the smallest only 22. The number of members in branches voting for rejection is 21,655 compared to 17,090 in branches voting for rejection, again a clear majority.
3)     In order to avoid either small branches counting as more than their weight in membership, or a few people in big branches exercising disproportionate influence to the number of members actually participating through a block vote, the practise in consultations on pay has been to use the votes of those actually participating across branches as in 1) above.
 
Other factors:
 
At least two branch votes were excluded:
Southwark did a late return but it was known in time to be reported to SGE reps and I was aware of it.
Islington was not included for reasons not known as the branch reported that they did their return in time.
When included their return increases the majority for rejection to 1330 - 784 - so that 62.9% of those who expressed a preference were for rejection.
 
Regional Local Government Executive - I was unable to attend the meeting on 28 June 2012 - but the Chair made me aware that a vote there expressed a view in favour of rejection of the proposals.
Therefore it was clear that:
A majority of members in the Region expressing a view were for rejection
The membership of branches who voted for rejection represented a majority of those participating
The relevant lay bodies supported rejection and the lay officials shared the interpretation of the result.
On this basis I was one of the six delegates on the Local Government SGE who voted against recommending acceptance of the proposals.
 
One very big concern that should be shared by all is the very low level of engagement of members in the process (under 5% of participating branches and not much more than 3% overall). I believe that this is primarily a product of the long interlude since 30 November and that many members may believe that the pensions issue has already been settled.
 
We will have a very difficult task to try to get a decent turnout in the ballot which will now run from 31 July to 24 August, during the peak summer holiday period and in London of course during the Olympics.
 
I hope that whatever our views we can all work together to get as big a turnout as possible - which will only be assisted by a full and vigorous debate about the merits and demerits of the proposals."

In the event of course the Local Government SGE voted by a large majority to recommend acceptance, as did the other SGEs (with the welcome exception of Higher Education, whose recommendation to reject has provoked some misguided criticism effectively rebutted by my NEC comrade Max Watson - http://maxwatsonunison.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/unisons-higher-education-service-group.html?m=1).

As I said, I believe that it is both legitimate and appropriate for branches and members to campaign for rejection. UNISON's National Delegate Conference (the supreme decisionmaking body of the Union) recently considered this question and you can read the decision at the following link;

http://cms.unison.co.uk/MotionText.asp?DocumentID=998614
 
Point (c) affirms "the right of UNISON members, branches and other appropriate representative bodies to make and campaign within Rule for recommendations in member ballots". This is as agreed at UNISON National Delegate Conference 2008.

This authoritatively determines that the correct interpretation of Rule B.2.5 in this context is that, since the purpose of the national ballot is to determine UNISON policy then, going in to the ballot, there is no national policy and any appropriate representative body, including a branch, may communicate their own (democratically agreed) recommendation to the members they represent.

I know that sometimes over-zealous officials believe themselves entitled to advise branches and activists inappropriately on this question, so I hope that activists will ensure they pass this information around in order to be helpful as this explains why a branch may legitimately make and campaign for its own recommendation (within its own rules and procedures).

As to why this is appropriate, I think that there are two vital arguments. The first argument is that, conceived narrowly as the proposed settlement a free standing trade dispute about the LGPS, this is an unsatisfactory settlement which could be improved by further action. The second is that there are very bad wider industrial and political consequences of the way the dispute has been allowed to drift since December, and that these will be compounded by acceptance of the deal.

The case against the proposed settlement on its own terms is based upon the case against the "Principles of Agreement" upon which the deal is founded - which I set out on the Socialist Unity blog back in January (http://www.socialistunity.com/what-next-for-local-government-pension-scheme/). This is a settlement which concedes working longer and receiving a worse pension when we retire. If we took more than a single token day of strike action we would have a chance of a better deal.

The broader case against the settlement draws upon the arguments of the Communist Party's "Broadening the Battle Lines" pamphlet (which I reviewed here - http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/content/view/full/116240).

The Government's attack on our pensions is part of its all out assault upon the working class and the welfare state and, rather than snatching each shabby compromise as it is offered, the trade union movement should be mounting determined and unified resistance.

The disappointingly flat response, at UNISON's June Conference in Bournemouth, to our General Secretary's call for united action against the pay freeze is a direct consequence of the conduct of the custodians of the pensions dispute over the past seven months.

The mobilisation of a million members is not a task that can be achieved simply - it took a long build up, culminating in ten weeks of determined leadership from the top, encouraging our activists, to get to 30 November. Such an effort requires a great deal of unity, as well as decisive leadership.

Unfortunately, demobilising members is something that can be achieved with far less effort - and this is what we have achieved over the course of 2012. If we accept a cheapening of our pension scheme and a lengthening of our working lives (as the Local Government SGE ask us to) then we shall find it that much harder to mobilise our members over pay.

The best way (in the immediate term) to support the cause of united action over pay will be if we can secure rejection of the LGPS 2014 deal - and that is also the most important contribution local government workers could make this summer to worthwhile trade union unity.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Few details of the "Fair Deal"

In the ministerial statement, on 4 July, in which Danny Alexander announced that the Government would press ahead with the changes to the health, civil service and teachers' pension schemes which have been rejected by most trade unions (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120704/wmstext/120704m0001.htm), he also announced that the current "Fair Deal" arrangements to protect pensions in the event of privatisation would be replaced by new arrangements to enable outsourced staff to remain in their public sector pension schemes.

As some well-informed online comment points out, this builds upon the model of "admitted body status" in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) - but there is no detail about how this is supposed to work in practice (http://www.osborneclarke.com/publications/services/pensions/alert/2012/broad-comparability-assessments-axed.aspx). We are no closer to an understanding of how the same approach will work in the LGPS, although "retention of the Fair Deal" (really its replacement) has been one of the main selling points in the desparate and disingenuous attempts to market a poor compromise as a triumph.

New Labour introduced the "Fair Deal" in order to facilitate privatisation by removing one of the most significant of the obstacles it encountered - and this Government want privatised staff to stay in (somewhat cheaper) public sector pension schemes (against the rantings of Lord Hutton) not because they care about our old age, but because they want to accelerate privatisation and don't want a flight of active contributing members out of pension schemes with plenty of liabilities to retired and deferred members.

This is the same motivation which has driven the Local Government Association to ensure that savings are made from the benefits paid out, and not contributions paid in, to the LGPS. It's not an ignoble motive, and trade unionists should be as interested as employers in the viability of pension funds (albeit for different reasons). However, it does mean that those who trumpet this development as a triumph for trade union negotiators are telling, at best, half of the truth.

The practical difficulties of guaranteeing LGPS membership for transferring staff are considerable. "Admitted bodies" need to be admitted to a particular fund, with contribution rates set according to their circumstances and a bond paid to the fund as security against their bankruptcy. How these arrangements can be varied to ensure continued access to the LGPS for transferring staff, without tripping over procurement regulations, is presumably a topic already taking up the time of at least a few civil servants and local government officers.

I hope it isn't an indication of an excess of pessimism of the intellect to want to see a little more detail on this point. I wouldn't wish to fall into the trap of "miserabilism."

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Unfairly dismissed and looking for justice? Pay £1200 up front or shut up and go away.

The Government yesterday published their response to consultation on the introduction of fees in employment tribunals (https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/et-fee-charging-regime-cp22-2011/results/employment-tribunal-fees-consultation-response.pdf).

From some point in the latter half of 2013 a two tier structure of fees for bringing claims to employment tribunals will be introduced. For many claims (including unfair dismissal and discrimination) there will be an initial fee of £250 to submit a claim and a further fee of £950 to go to a hearing. So that's £1200 up front for a chance of justice. If you win the boss might have to pay this sum on top of any compensation, but you'll still have to find the money first (with remission of fees on the same basis as the civil courts for those on low incomes).

Certain simpler claims (including claims for unauthorised deductions) will cost £160 to submit and face a hearing fee of £230. £390 is small change to a member of the Cabinet of Millionaires, but not to a worker trying to enforce their legal right to holiday pay or the minimum wage.

The TUC are right to condemn this outrage(http://www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-21213-f0.cfm). The Government have ignored strong opposition - and not just from trade unions. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, opposing the requirement to pay fees to bring discrimination claims, argued;

"The Commission believes that requiring payment of a fee to bring a discrimination claim may breach the principle of effectiveness as it will make it difficult for individuals to enforce their EU law rights. We do not think that the measures set out at paragraph 3.5 of the EIA will "ensure that no one is denied access to justice through the introduction of a fee." Nor do we think that those measures are likely to be proportionate and thus justify what would otherwise amount to indirect discrimination."

This is transparently an attempt to discourage claims being brought to employment tribunals, and to give even greater leeway to bad employers to exploit workers. Professional whingers on the employers' behalf (such as the Institute of Directors) complain that it's too easy for workers to pursue misconceived claims against them - but the truth is that it's already hard enough.

The unions need to ensure that Labour is pledged to repeal these charges but, in the mean time, we need to determine whether, and if so when, unions should pay these fees for our members. This is not a straightforward question and requires careful thought.

The details have yet to be worked out in full - the consultation report states that "In the next stage of our implementation work we will review in detail all claim types and how and when fees are charged. There will be published guidance to ensure that claimants and respondents know when fees are paid, how they are paid and how much is payable. We will also provide clear guidance on the remissions system which will support the fee structure."

Unions need a policy and practice in place in twelve months time to deal with this deliberate obstacle being placed in the way of working people seeking justice.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sonnet bows out

This week's meeting of UNISON's National Executive Council was somewhat overshadowed, for me, by the solid and enthusiastic strike action by Camden Branch members working for parking contractor NSL (http://www.unison.org.uk/news/news_view.asp?did=7963). I was very pleased to be able to join the strikers on a picket line and at their lunch time rally.

The relatively low key NEC meeting, focused on reviewing last month's Conference, received apologies from our General Secretary, Dave Prentis, who therefore missed the leaving drinks of Deputy General Secretary, Keith Sonnet (http://www.unison.org.uk/about/board_view.asp?did=2239) who left UNISON's employment at the end of last month.

Keith expressed himself, in a leaving message, as follows; "The importance of strong trade unions is as evident today as it ever was. The current Government imposed austerity is  devastating the lives of so many, particularly young people. The next generation will suffer  both the consequences of our failure today, to act to create decent sustainable jobs, and to protect the environment and the planet on which we live. As trade unionists we strive to show that through collective action we can make a difference to the lives of working people and their families. Through organising we provide leadership and build confidence that no challenge is too great."

That's a succinct summary of the challenges we face and the hope that through union organising, we may yet confront these challenges. Whether we shall do so effectively depends very much upon the leadership to which our departing DGS refers.

Keith's departure (from a post which is enshrined in UNISON's Rule Book) will enable the appointment of a successor who is likely to be seen as "official" heir apparent to our General Secretary (in an election which could come at any point in the next three years). Regular readers of this blog thinking of applying should keep an eye on the job ads (http://www.unison.org.uk/jobs/)!

Mind you, now might be just the time to return to the debate we had at UNISON's second National Delegate Conference in 1995, concerning the election (rather than appointment) of the Deputy General Secretary...

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Monday, July 09, 2012

Compromising settlements?

I commend the excellent blogpost on this link (http://www.struckout.co.uk/renaming-compromise-agreements-a-pointless-employment-law-reform/) for highlighting the utter absurdity of changing the name of "compromise agreements" to "settlement agreements", as proposed by lause 16 of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

There's a lot not to like about compromise agreements, but their name isn't part of the problem! They were introduced in 1993 by a previous Tory Government to provide a watertight way for employers to ensure that workers accepting a financial settlement were giving up their legal rights to bring any claims to an employment tribunal (or, for that matter, elsewhere).

Now they are an opportunity for firms of solicitors to make money (£350 plus VAT is pretty standard) for the old rope of advising workers of the rights that they are giving up. Ironically, the same service can still be provided free of charge to either party in the public sector by Conciliation Officers employed by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) - and with the same legally binding effect. What you call the privatised alternative to ACAS makes no real difference.

The more serious problem facing workers seeking trade union support for employment-related litigation arises, however, precisely from the domination of employment tribunals by lawyers of which the prevalence of compromise agreements is just one symptom.

Driven by the imperative to keep down the costs of professional indemnity insurance, trade unions increasingly (over the past decade or more) have "outsourced" actual representation to solicitors (who thereby inherit the liability and hence the costs of indemnity insurance).

Cases are supported only where a prior "merits assessment" indicates a "reasonable prospect of success", meaning that marginal (or inadequately prepared and presented) cases are unlikely to be supported.

I've blogged before about my concern that this can weaken the efficacy and collective strength of our movement (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/tragedy-of-employment-tribunals.html?m=1), but a worse flaw is exposed if workers, having been turned down by the union, try their chances unrepresented.

Employers, who are of course wise to the arrangements we make to represent workers against them, are handed a useful argument with which to seek to intimidate unrepresented claimants into withdrawing their claims in these circumstances - because they can infer that the unrepresented claimants previously supported by a trade union have probably had legal advice (even if only indirectly) that their claim lacks a "reasonable prospect of success."

In these circumstances claimants probably won't even be offered the opportunity to sign away any rights, whether they do so with a "settlement agreement" or a "compromise agreement", or even through ACAS. Knowing that a claimant who pursues their claim in spite of adverse legal advice is at greater risk of an award of costs against them, employers can try to cajole workers into abandoning claims and thereby escape scrutiny of their actions in a tribunal, assisted by the very arrangements made by the trade union to secure legal advice and support for members.

We need to reconsider what we're doing here.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

LGPS - supporters of the deal play their joker!

In a marvellously measured and temperate contribution to the legitimate debate about whether UNISON should recommend that our members accept or reject changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) a notoriously sane and reasonable fellow NEC member offers a whole new reason why we should accept a less favourable deal on pensions (whilst dressing it up as better than it is) (http://grayee.blogspot.com/2012/07/moanie-fibbing-miserabalists-and-lgps.html?m=1)

Far be it from me to voice criticism of those who engage in electronic communication late at night (whether or not having imbibed) but I do wonder at the wisdom of his argument from the point of view of those who would see us accept the package that has been negotiated.

In a blog post of sound and fury, in which all is black and white with no shades of Gray, my fellow blogger concludes not only that all Branch Secretaries who oppose the proposed settlement are "extremists" but also that they should not highlight shortcomings in the plans for LGPS 2014 because if they do, members may opt out of the scheme, leading to an old age of penury, the blame for which can be laid (according to the self-proclaimed leading pensions expert in the small world of the UNISON blogosphere) entirely at the feet of these reckless "revolutionary" Branch Secretaries.

Not only is this apparently ill-considered rant likely to offend the many moderate branch activists who have made a balanced judgement that, as it stands, LGPS 2014 should be rejected, more importantly the central argument stands exposed as completely flawed.

If we were to take the view that we should recommend acceptance of any worsening or cheapening of our pensions (provided only that the resulting scheme was better than the awful "money purchase" option available from the private sector) we would inevitably invite further attacks.

I don't think we should infantilise our members by seeming to assume that they cannot understand two things at once. UNISON members are quite capable of concluding that LGPS 2014 is less favourable overall than LGPS 2008 and that we should reject it and strike on for more, whilst simultaneously understanding that, if we lose, any defined benefit occupational pension scheme is better than the absence of such a scheme.

There is a risk of opt-outs from the LGPS (and that's a risk that is threatening to Councillors because of the knock-on effect on local government finance) - but that risk is as much about the pay freeze as it is about pensions themselves.

Overall I think my fellow NEC blogger should calm down before a totally over-the-top post blows his cover as a long term "sleeper" for the far left, sent in (by some obscure faction) to discredit the arguments of their opponents with vitriol and exaggeration.

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Honesty and the LGPS

A post over at the "UNISON Anonymous" blog regurgitates yesterday's "key facts" as published in "LGPS Protect Our Pensions Bulletin 21". The blogger, even though they conceal their identity, adds no other comment (http://unisonactive.blogspot.com/2012/07/key-facts-about-lgps-2014-proposals-and.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter&m=1).

There is an honest argument to accept the proposals for the future of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS 2014) - though I don't agree with it. The honest argument is that, whilst we know it's not a good deal and represents a cheapening of our pensions, it's not nearly as bad as it might have been and represents the best we can get in return for a single day of strike action.

If you don't believe we can mobilise our members for more strike action then a coherent case can be made for swallowing hard and accepting a worse pension scheme (which would still be better than pensions otherwise available). I don't agree with this argument but it's honest and coherent and, if expressed openly, reflects the views of many national officials.

For some reason though, those who really hold the view outlined above feel driven to pretend that LGPS 2014 is a wonderful deal - an improvement even upon LGPS 2008.

This silly argument demeans those who make it. No wonder the blogger at "UNISON Active" wants to remain anonymous!

Let's consider their "key facts";

• 90% of members will pay the same or less contributions as now (for which we will receive reduced benefits payable for most members at a later date)
• Most part-time workers and those with actual pensionable earnings between £15,801 and £21,000 will pay less in LGPS 2014 and (in many cases get less)
• Over 55% of local government workers work part-time (true)
• Only those earning over £43,001 will pay more (true)
• They make up just 4% of LGPS members (true)
• 95.6% members earn less than £43,000 - the point at which contributions increase (That's the same point made over two bullet points)
• The LGPS 2014 will for many members deliver a better pension than LGPS 2008, especially for those with less than 20 – 25 years of membership (This does not take account of the negative impact of the increased retirement age – taking that into account it isn't true – and our young members will need much more than 25 years service in pension schemes to avoid poverty in old age!)
• But the average length of membership in the scheme is just 7 years, so most members will do better in LGPS 2014 (This is misleading. In the current scheme part time workers' membership is pro rata, so someone working half time for 14 years has 7 years membership, but that won't be how membership is calculated in future).
• From 1 April 2014 the Normal Pension Age (NPA) will be at least 65 and will then increase in line with the State Pension Age – which is set to rise to 68 between 2044 and 2046. All pensionable service before 1 April 2014 will retain a Normal Pension Age of 65 (The Government have already made clear that they will increase the State Pension Age beyond 68 in future, and the Normal Pension Age in our scheme will be linked to that ever-increasing age. When UNISON branches tried to get UNISON to support the "68 is too late" campaign at Conference it was ruled out of order!)
• The existing Rule of 85 protections will remain. Members aged 55 or over at 1 April 2012 will be protected by an underpin, which ensures that those people will be no worse off as a result of these changes. Under the proposals there are no plans to remove the pension protection for those made redundant from age 55 (The Rule of 85 protections only apply to those protected last time we were persuaded to accept reductions in the value of our pension scheme).
• Those who have to work longer will get a bigger pension because they will be paying contributions – and benefitting from employer contributions for longer (Those who are working longer will also pay more contributions because they are paying for more years - their pension won't necessarily be bigger)
• Because all earnings will be pensionable – including non-contractual overtime and additional hours for part-time workers – members will have bigger pensions than now (Because all earnings will be pensionable, pension contributions will be paid on more earnings than now)
• Most UNISON members not in the LGPS give cost and low pay as the reason. The "50/50 option" will help them to join (or encourage existing members to further reduce the provision they are making for their old age?)

What about some of the "key facts" that are missing from LGPS PoP 21 and by extension from the work of the mystery blogger at UNISON Active;

• If we accept LGPS 2014 we are accepting the uprating of pensions in payment after retirement by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rather than the Retail Price Index (RPI) – costing us 15% of the lifetime value of our pensions.
• If we accept LGPS 2014 (and the increase in the normal retirement age) this means that those who exercise their right to retire at 65 will lose up to 15% of the value of their post-2014 pensionable service.
• If we accept LGPS 2014 we are accepting a significant detrimental change in "survivor benefits" (pensions paid to widows, widowers and dependents) as 1/160th accrual in a career average scheme is considerably worse than in a final salary scheme.
• The Local Government Pension Scheme is financially secure as it is, with billions more paid in than paid out every year.
• Our Local Government employers did not seek changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme.
• If we accept LGPS 2014 we are accepting a scheme which is worse on every measure (contributions, accrual and revaluation rates) than the scheme which has been rejected by civil servants.

Information published by the national union has on several occasions been misleading – even where our National Local Government Conference told them to be honest and straightforward. This is contrary to UNISON Rules.

UNISON is rightly proud to have defended a good final salary pension scheme for UNISON staff (including our key national negotiators). We should perhaps do the same for UNISON members.

If this really was a good deal, national officials wouldn't have to market it with half-truths and misleading comments.

If the officials promoting the LGPS 2014 had paid attention to those sections of our General Secretary's keynote speech at Conference in which he told us that leadership was about honesty then they could have avoided misrepresentation.

Then we could have the real debate, around the real question - can we deliver the further action necessary to defeat the Government's attack on our pensions?

This is the discussion that isn't being had.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Our very own "pensions mis-selling scandal"?

It was a little over a month ago that I first blogged disquiet at the publication of misleading information about the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) on UNISON's website (http://www.jonrogers1963.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/lies-damned-lies-and-examples.html?m=1).

I was concerned that a document purporting to compare pension benefits in the proposed future (LGPS 2014) pension scheme with those currently on offer (LGPS 2008) included unrealistic assumptions about future earnings growth which tended to make the future proposed "career average" scheme look like a better deal than it is.

The document in question was subsequently withdrawn, but not before four branches had submitted Emergency Motions to UNISON's Local Government Conference.

The key question is about the assumptions you make about the long term future relationship between earnings and prices, because this assumption alters the balance of any assessment of the future value of a career average pension compared to a final salary pension.

In a nutshell, the more optimistic one is about future earnings growth, the worse the LGPS 2014 proposals look when compared to what we have now. Last year - when we were trying to persuade members to strike - our online pensions calculator (which made tailored individual calculations) was based on the assumption that, over the long term, earnings growth would outstrip the Consumer Price Index (CPI) annually by 2.5%.

The "examples" document which I criticised here on 31 May presented figures based upon three scenarios for the long term average relationship between earnings growth and CPI (+1.5%, zero and -1.5%). Of these scenario, over the long term, only +1.5% has credibility. No reputable economic forecaster thinks that, over the long term, earnings will continue to fall behind prices in the UK.

Crucially, however, it is dishonest of us to offer calculations based upon one set of assumptions when we try to persuade our members to strike, and then to use a different set of assumptions when we try to persuade them to settle. Leadership, Dave Prentis reminded us at National Delegate Conference, is about honesty.

Our Local Government Conference agreed, when it passed Emergency Composite 3, which read as follows;

"Conference notes that proposals for the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) were released on 31 May 2012.

Conference further notes that the factsheet "LGPS 2014 - Examples", published on UNISON's website on 31 May uses different assumptions for price and earnings growth than those used in the UNISON pensions calculator publicised in protect our pensions newsletters and used in the run up to our ballot for industrial action on pensions.

Conference believes that, in the interests of consistency and transparency we should use the same assumptions in published examples illustrating the LGPS 2014 as we used in the pensions calculator.

Conference therefore resolves to instruct the Service Group Executive to ensure that the examples published to date are reissued to reflect the same assumptions as those which underpinned our pensions calculator, and that these are issued to all branches, pensions contacts and with the ballot paper."

This is a clear direction, from our Conference, to our elected leaders, to be honest (to "use the same assumptions in published examples illustrating the LGPS 2014 as we used in the pensions calculator"). Unfortunately, the revised version of the examples document now reissued on our website (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/LGPS2014ExamplesNew.pdf) completely ignores this Conference decision in favour of honesty in that it repeats the same assumptions as the earlier, discredited document.

This is a great shame, indicating as it does a lack of respect for our Conference (and a breach of our Rules) - not least because, whilst under pressure at Conference, the officials were able to issue more reliable information (http://www.unison.org.uk/acrobat/PensionsTreasury40yearsRevalued.xlsx) which compared the current and proposed LGPS for future service, based upon the assumptions made by the Government Actuaries Department (GAD) when they carried out their independent costing of the scheme.

There is no excuse for officials to have reissued this discredited document in breach of our policy and our Rules.

The reissuing of the flawed and discredited "examples" document is, regrettably, not the only example of official misinformation.

The main national leaflet about LGPS is factually incorrect when it says that the scheme revaluation rate was "laid down by the Coalition" before negotiations began. This is simply untrue and creates the wrong impression that, instead of negotiating a pragmatic trade off between accrual and revaluation rates (as they did) our negotiators were presented with a revaluation rate as a fait accompli and then secured an improved accrual rate. This may simply be a proofreading error - but it is a material inaccuracy which hasn't been corrected.

Furthermore, the position on survivors' benefits is presented as unchanged between LGPS 2008 and LGPS 2014 whereas in fact the proposals will represent a significant worsening of survivor benefits earned by future service. Again, this may simply be sloppy presentation of the detrimental impact of an unchanged accrual rate as the basis of the scheme changes, but the presentation is materially incorrect.

It's funny how every error and inaccuracy tends to make LGPS 2014 look better than it is.

Actually, it isn't funny at all.

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