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OPINION

'Join the protest to stop pensions being used to bail out banks'

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Next week’s mass day of action will send a clear message to the government to leave nurses’ pensions and future retirement alone, says Unite’s Fiona Farmer

Next week, unprecedented numbers of NHS staff will take action in opposition to government changes to their pension scheme. Nurses in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be protesting against having to pay more, work longer and get less in their retirement.

Nurses are furious that the revenue and income generated from these changes will not be returned to the pension scheme but will be used to repay the national budget deficit caused by the reckless action of the banks. The NHS scheme is affordable and viable and currently receives £2bn more each year in contributions than is paid out in benefits.

Taking industrial action is a last resort for nurses and other health workers but such is the strength of feeling at the government’s refusal to listen and engage in meaningful discussions that staff have voted overwhelmingly with their feet.

“There will be widespread local events at hospitals, clinics and health centres where nurses can show their support for the day of action”

Nurses will be joining colleagues across the public sector on 30 November, taking action in defence of their pension. Schools will be closed, council and benefit offices will shut their doors, and members will participate in demonstrations and marches across towns and cities. There will also be widespread local events at hospitals, clinics and health centres where nurses can show their support for the day of action.

We do, however, have responsibilities for healthcare and essential cover will be provided across the NHS during the period of industrial action.

Why are the proposals so bad for nurses?

The indexation of pensions in retirement has been unilaterally changed from retail price index (RPI) to consumer price index (CPI). With one fearsome cut, pension benefit paid in retirement will be reduced by around 15%.

Contribution increases will be imposed in 2012 and beyond. This will mean an average increase of 3.2% of pay and, for a nurse on band 6, paying around £1,000 more per year for their pension.

Pension benefits will be based on career average as opposed to final salary, which will result in a reduction of pension paid in retirement of around 10%. This will be lower still for staff who take career breaks or have periods of working shorter hours.
Normal retirement age will in future be linked to state pension age. Under current proposals this will rise to 68.

Unite, along with other health unions, are firmly opposed to these changes in particular the prospect of nurses working to age 68 and beyond.

We can only imagine the impact on the health and wellbeing of nursing staff required to work extra years in roles that continually demand high levels of physical and mental effort. And how will having a much older workforce affect services and the delivery of care?

The attack on pensions is against a background of a two-year pay freeze and rising costs for food, fuel and energy.

Nurses and all public sector workers deserve a decent pension and that is all we are asking for. The myths regarding gold-plated pensions could not be further from the truth with the average NHS pension paid in retirement being around £7,000 for men and for women a miserly £3,500 per year.

This mass day of action and protest will send a clear message to the government: hands off our pension and hands off our future retirement.

Find out what events are taking place near you. NHS unions and the Trades Union Congress have information on their websites. Have your say and add your voice to the many who will participate in the day of action. Enough is enough

  • www.unitetheunion.org

Fiona Farmer is national officer at Unite

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