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Unions apply pressure on pay and pensions


Unions are stepping up behind-the-scenes pressure on the government over planned attacks on public sector pay and pensions.

The NHS Staff Council met on Friday to discuss how to combat threats to Agenda for Change terms and conditions.

Staff and employer representatives also came together last Thursday to thrash out issues at the Social Partnership Forum. The forum brings together employers, unions and the Department of Health to discuss the future workforce implications of government health policies.

Meanwhile, an application from a group of unions to launch a judicial review against changes to pensions has been formally lodged.

The unions, which include Unite, are challenging plans to change the inflation measure used to calculate the value of public sector pensions. They are unhappy with plans to link increases in the value of pensions to the consumer prices index, instead of the generally higher retail prices index.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail told Nursing Times the change would have a “devastating” impact on the value of pensions, reducing them by 15%.

Talks between unions and ministers, including cabinet office minister Frances Maude and chief secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, over the change are ongoing. They are also discussing plans to raise staff pension contributions and switch from final salary to career average schemes, as recommended by the Hutton report in March.

Chancellor George Osborne previously said in budget speech in March he would not be “cherry-picking” from Lord Hutton’s report, which recommended many of the changes under discussion.

But Ms Cartmail said: “They’re wedded to the [switch to] career average schemes, unless we can persuade them otherwise.”

She said unions were making a strong case for not going ahead with plans to raise employee contributions by 3% and were “trying to agree some basic principles”.

Negotiations are due to conclude in June. However, the High Court may not rule on the judicial review until after this point.

Unions are also fighting strong calls for restraint over public sector paybills (see left).

Right wing thinktank the Policy Exchange last week published a report claiming public sector workers were paid 35% more per hour than in the private sector. It also called for an end to national pay bargaining and national strike ballots.


Readers' comments (25)

  • "The unions, which include Unite, are challenging plans to change the inflation measure used to calculate the value of public sector pensions.They are unhappy with plans to link increases in the value of pensions to the consumer prices index, instead of the generally higher retail prices index.

    No longer a plan but a reality as NHS pensioners discovered with their April payment.

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  • First a pay freeze, the unions talked lots but did nothing.

    The teachers get a threat of a pay freeze - strike's planned.

    Now threat to our pensions, again our unions talking lots.

    How long until they let this happen.

    Lets get a union that works for us, they take our subs and do nothing in return.

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  • Anonymous | 17-May-2011 1:05 pm

    Totally agree. We have to stop asking nicely and start kicking government butt. To do that, we need unions with steel toe-capped boots, not fluffy slippers.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    I case anyone thinks that the squeeze on the public sector is confined to the UK the Danish Government have voted to phase out their early retirement scheme in a bid to save € 3.3b.

    But then they also have a centre right government.

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  • The government is hell bent on attacking NHS pensioners. They are treating the pension as if it was a state benefit, it is not, it is an occupational pension to which I have paid what I was asked to pay. They have effectively reduced my pension by linking rises to the CPI instead of the RPI. Why is it ok for the state pension to be linked to the highest of the 3 indicators, CPI,RPI or wage rise inflation, but not the NHS pension. The government knows very well the effect that will have on the pension over the period the pension is paid. It is the very reason why that today the value of the state pension in this country is the lowest in western europe with only eastern european states having a lower pension when relating pensions to average earnings. It is the very reason the government has changed the way in which increases to the state pension are determined, reversing the changes Margaret Thatcher made and Labour did nothing to correct. Why is it they can change the rules on how they work out increases AFTER one has retired when there is no opportunity to opt to carry on working to make up the difference. My pension agreement, like many thousands of others states unequivocally that increases will be linked to the RPI, there is no caveat attached to that. It is realy galling that after a lifetime of work, always doing the right thing, saving for retirement, joining the pension scheme, never having put my hand out for benefits, that now I am having money taken away that I am entitled to. Shame on you Cameron and Clegg

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  • I'll believe it when I see it. WHAT pressure exactly are they putting on the government? WHERE is the action promised after the strong rhetoric at the RCN congress? WHY are our votes of no confidence and votes to strike not being used to beat the government around the head?

    STRIKES WORK!!!! In the public sector we have the teachers and even the fire serice in recent years to prove that. Even bloody BA workers have got everything they wanted by striking, and they are nowhere near as vital a service as we are!

    STOP TALKING AND STRIKE!!! For crying out bloody loud!!!!!

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  • MPs should have their allowance removed that they get when we vote them out. If we made their salaries and pensions (as public servants) linked to an appropriate band of health worker or teacher etc. Perhaps Band 6 for an MP, Band 7 for a Minister and band 8 for Prime Minister. We might then get an appropriate pay deal for the responsibilities taken.

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  • Anonymous | 17-May-2011 8:19 pm
    Couldn't agree more. Banks should also be taxed, the tax dodgers, ie. vodaphone etc. should be jailed if they fail to pay the taxes they owe.

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  • We all know we need to save money but what really galls me is the way they go after our pay and pensions which is an easy and obvious target.

    There are many examples however, of how else money can be saved without touching patient care or staff pay and conditions.
    Is anyone else aware of how much over the odds the NHS pay for sundry items and services which amount to huge sums of money?

    Just take a look at your ward order lists for a start to see how much we pay for items such as stationary, furniture, some simple over the counter drugs etc, multiply this up and consider if we had managers who were able to negotiate how much could be saved as a Trust.

    The big supermarket managers would be getting these at a snip of the price for such a large organisation, not paying more than over the counter prices!! They are in an excellent bargaining position and they know it!

    High time we had some decent managers on board- maybe one of those who like auditing could audit that.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    @ mike | 17-May-2011 6:55 pm

    Going on strike worked a treat for the miners in 1984 didn't it?

    We live in a democracy if you want to effect political change there are mechanisms for effecting that change, don't start playing with peoples jobs and careers to achieve your own political ends.

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