UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Pensions: 'Name the Day' posturing or getting our action right

The sinister fringes of our union are again crawling out from under the various stones where they have been resting, like Lord Voldemorte and the Death Eaters. As always they remain shadowy, unwilling to reveal themselves for who they are (“a number of UNISON activists” quote, unquote).

 The way we run our dispute will be critical to our success and will be led by our lay members and will be governed by our democratic processes, ensuring co-operation and co-ordination across the union.
We have all sat in a hostelry of an evening with other activists and solved the problems of the union, and then usually the following morning sobriety intervenes but, unable to make any headway on the Conference floor, this lot have taken to the web to formulate their demands, as if UNISON conference itself had never happened and the delegates representing branches from all services and sectors had not taken the opportunity to formulate a position for themselves.

Contempt for the democratic processes of the union is this time manifested in the demand that branches lobby the NEC to next week to “name the day” ignoring the decisions already taken.

Misrepresenting the union is easy if members do not have the information on what decisions were actually taken and how they were agreed. For clarity therefore UNISONActive reproduces in whole the statement that was taken by the NEC to National Delegate Conference 2011 and unanimously agreed. ANY EMPHASIS WITHIN THE STATEMENT IS OURS.

As the statement makes clear, democratic decisions have been taken about the principles on pensions that our union stands by, and the strategy that we intend to follow. Anyone at conference will be able to recite the slogan for themselves, and should now be out making sure that every member of the union can also do so:-

The statement also outlines those processes whereby democratic decisions will be taken in the context of the UNISON rule book, as to how our union moves forward in unity. Our decisions, once we have taken then, will then inform our relationships with other unions through the TUC Public Services Forum chaired by our General Secretary.

Putting efforts into encouraging branches to “Name the Day” when the priorities for the union have been democratically decided is at best a side show, at worst an attempt at disrupting the necessary work to secure our members active consent for action, based on how this union judges the results of the path that we have chosen.


“PREAMBLE- Although comprehensive, the content of the composite on pensions to be considered here this morning was originally drafted some months ago. There have been considerable developments since then and it was felt that a statement should be made to Conference to bring you up to date with the situation. Additionally those with whom we are in discussions do not seem to be respecting the negotiating processes and like Danny Alexander seem to dictate through the air waves and pre-empt the important sector negotiations. UNISON respects the integrity of the process and is angry at the cavalier and unnecessary interventions by Danny Alexander at such a sensitive time.

Statement While even the Public Accounts Committee admits that the 2007 reforms are good value for the taxpayer and will keep public sector pensions stable, the ConDem Government is still insisting that further reforms are necessary, and are imposing a tax levy of £4bn by a 50% + increase in member contributions for those earning above £18,000. In addition the change from RPI TO CPI reduces the value of members’ benefits by around 15%.

The government is also seeking to abolish the Fair Deal arrangements which could also result in 1000’s of scheme members forced out of the LGPS and NHSPS, resulting in loss of pension rights for members and threatening the stability of our schemes. The review of the Fair Deal has been instigated by rapacious employers who are deliberately organising to make privatisation of public services more attractive, by lessening the costs to employers through the sabotaging of members pension rights.

In the LGPS Admitted body status is also under threat as a result of a recommendation in the final Hutton Report and this will affect the total membership of the scheme and its viability.

The current attacks on public sector pensions threaten the very viability of the funds, meaning that the rights of current and future pensioners to draw their pensions are under threat, and may result in the Government having to bail out funds that have been viable for generations. In practical terms increasing contributions has forced members who have suffered wage freeze and rising prices to reconsider paying pension contributions and will continue to do so.

In the case of the LGPS schemes any increase in opt outs and outsourcing will increase that number.

As a result of the increasing level of opt-outs there will soon be a critical point for the NHSPS where the government will have to find additional money to pay current pensioners because there are not enough people paying.

The government must pull back immediately from its path of destruction or it faces undermining the entire structure of public sector pensions The government says it wants to avoid a ‘race to the bottom’ for pensions but the proposals will create that very race.

We condemn the premature and provocative comments of Danny Alexander, detailing the outcome of the negotiations before they were complete. The government team needs to show that it is committed to genuine negotiations and constructive dialogue.

Our pension schemes, the LGPS and the NHSPS are practical and viable examples of schemes that embrace the whole workforce and work on an intergenerational basis for the benefit of everyone (unlike the private sector where Directors protect their own benefits and fail to make provision for their workforce). They must remain open to everyone and guarantee the benefits that scheme members already have. Our schemes must remain affordable for the whole workforce.

UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis is currently leading negotiations with other public sector unions via the TUC on these cross-cutting issues, to establish a framework for individual scheme discussions. UNISON plays a leading role, and will continue to play a leading role, in the TUC PSF that is coordinating both the negotiations and the moves toward industrial action.

However different pensions schemes negotiations and hence different unions, have different timescales, these differences need to be respected. Within the LGPS there are 11 unions that we must work with, including the GMB and Unite without whom effective industrial action will be difficult. Similarly, there are 18 unions involved in the NHSPS, not all of whom are TUC affiliated. Our aim will continue to be that there should be maximum coordination across the public sector. Working with the other unions that represent members in our schemes will be crucial for scheme level negotiations, and for taking effective industrial action.

The UNISON-wide ‘Protect Our Pensions’ campaign has been launched to oppose the common attacks on the LGPS and the NHSPS and to preserve the pension rights of our members in outsourced services. Our campaign has produced:
• Champions and contacts
• Leaflets
• Briefings
• Training
• Regional networks
• And much more

This is a major organising strategy to build support for the campaign, to ensure a high response rate, build our member density and ensure the public and our members are fully aware of the consequences of the proposed changes. We have staff working daily to ensure that ballot preparations are technically and legally secure.
No stone is being left unturned as we are also party to legal action to challenge the change from RPI to CPI.

In the weeks ahead though every member must be made aware of the severity of the issues that face us, and the union must step up a gear in preparing for industrial action, to ensure that the 1.2 million members who will be balloted will participate, and will vote positively for industrial action. We must ensure that members are involved and fully understand what is at stake, to ensure we deliver a high turnout in any ballot and deliver a resounding yes vote for industrial action. Recent experience in taking Industrial Action suggests that the union must be vigilant and ensure that employers have no excuse to challenge our action through the legal system.

The way we run our dispute will be critical to our success and will be led by our lay members and will be governed by our democratic processes, ensuring co-operation and co-ordination across the union.

UNISON will continue to prepare and submit the necessary evidence to government and the relevant government departments that essentially protect our pensions and benefits, to establish a set of key principles that will form the basis for separate sector discussions which will follow on in Health and Local Government .Given the threat of privatisation of our services, we must particularly fight the changes to the Fair Deal on Pensions.

The NEC has called on all members to take part in local rallies and activities to support those unions taking action on 30 June and has issued advice to our members in workplaces where other unions are taking strike action on 30 June aimed at maximising the practical support and solidarity we can offer. As a Conference we offer our solidarity and support to those members and unions taking action.

To keep our pensions this union needs unity through all of our service groups and sectors and across the public sector, and solidarity across our membership. From this conference on, that is the challenge we face.”