Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Local government pensions update (England and Wales)

A set of principles providing "a positive framework" for negotiations on the future of the local government pension scheme (LGPS) in England and Wales have now been given the green light by government.
The principles and timetable for detailed negotiations were jointly agreed between unions and the Local Government Association after lengthy talks and submitted to the government.

A letter issued by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, yesterday contained an unexpected reference to a cap on employers' funding of the scheme, which had not been discussed with unions and has not formed part of the negotiations. This has now been withdrawn and a new letter issued without this reference.

UNISON's service group executives will meet to discuss the proposals at a Pensions Summit on 10 January 2012.

The latest issue of LGPS Campaign News includes the full agreement reached with the Local Government Association (LGA) along with explanatory notes. The government accepted that the LGPS - as a funded scheme with a high proportion of low earners - was different to the other 'pay as you go' schemes and has therefore given the go-ahead for a longer period of negotiation over the short and long-term issues. The government has also agreed to suspend the formal consultation on short-term savings while negotiations take place from January 2012.

This agreement does not apply to the LGPS in Scotland, where there are no current moves to change the scheme. In Northern Ireland the NI Executive has indicated that it is intending to make the same changes as in England and Wales.

There are a number of very important principles for UNISON contained within the framework agreement. These include:

  • Zero contribution increases for most members and no change in contributions, if required, until 2014
  • Maintain the inherent and relative value of the pension to other public sector schemes
  • Prevent opt-out from the scheme and encouraging new members
  • Keep Admitted Body Status
  • Ensure employers maintain the required contribution levels
  • Establish new governance mechanisms at scheme and individual fund levels to ensure good governance and reduce central government intervention
  • Negotiation - rather than imposition - of future changes post 2014 - if any are necessary Improve efficiency through a review of procurement, fund management and administration

Dave Prentis
UNISON general secretary

Friday, 9 December 2011

'Hope for the best but plan for the worst'

"We will hope for the best, but plan for the worst," UNISON's ruling NEC declared today as it assessed the effect of the 30 November pensions strike.

The day of action was "an absolutely fantastic day, the proudest day of my union life," general secretary Dave Prentis told the meeting in London.

And it had a clear effect: already serious negotiations have resumed and will continue into the new year, after ministers withdrew their deadline demanding agreement by the end of this year.

Talks started this week in the main pension schemes - NHS, local government, civil service and teachers' - and are continuing through December and into the new year, and the negotiators are co-ordinating among themselves, while more central negotiations take place with the Treasury and Cabinet Office.

The TUC public service unions will meet on 15 December to assess the day of action and look at the next steps.

But at the same time, the NEC agreed, UNISON needs to build on the momentum of 30 November, keep the union prepared for any further action if necessary, and keep members - especially those who joined in the run-up to the dispute - involved in the campaign.

All the relevant service group executives will meet in early January to be updated on negotiations and plan for any future industrial action.

The NEC called on regions to

  • maintain high active profiles through December and January;
  • call meetings of key activists in service groups to consult on possibilities for further action.

And it urged branches and activists to keep members informed and engaged in discussions to prepare for any offers that might come out of the renewed negotiations and prepared for further, stronger, action if necessary.

Recruitment in the weeks leading up to the strike hit record levels, the NEC heard, with the union recording the highest November recruitment figures in its history.

The meeting also heard a warning of a "major explosions about pay" following Chancellor George Osborne's autumn statement, which included limiting pay increases to 1% following the current pay freeze.

Mr Prentis warned that this would see members' net pay reduced by 20% in real terms from two years ago.

"We've got to gear up this union to deal with pay as we geared up to deal with pensions."

The NEC also:
  • agreed to send a message of support to Unilever workers who have voted for strike action over attacks on their final salary pension scheme;
  • received an update on the campaign to defend the NHS, focussing on the continuing campaign against the government's Health and Social Care Bill, currently going through the House of Lords and urged support for the Big NHS Weekend activity;
  • agreed the union's Link to a document on this siteobjectives and priorities for 2012;
  • agreed financial planning and budgets for the year ahead, including a continued fighting fund, and received the union's accounts for the nine months to September;
  • started planning for the 2012 national delegate conference.

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