Many UNISON members in the NHS will be wondering where we are in the campaign to defend our pensions. Many of us went on strike at the end of November and then heard at the end of December that UNISON negotiators had signed an agreement that put further action on hold pending further negotiations. Some unions who joined the national strike on Nov 30 did not sign the agreement. These unions are now preparing to strike again on March 28th on the grounds that the main factors leading to the strike on Nov 30 remain unchanged.
Oxfordshire UNISON Health branch members have debated the issue on two occasions. In January an emergency branch meeting agreed that the government still intended to force the majority of public sector workers to pay more contributions, work longer, and get less pension, and that these major issues had led to the strike and remained unchanged. The meeting unanimously isntructed the South East regional delegate to the Health Service group to communicate the branch's disatisfaction with the lack of progress and to signal that we wanted the UNISON Health Service group executive to support further joint union action in defence of public sector pensions.
The Branch Annual General Meeting endorsed this position. However this position was not accepted by the Health Service group Executive who voted instead to ballot UNISON members in the NHS to ask them if they wish to continue with the campaign to defend our pensions. This ballot will probably take place in March.
All indications from branch meetings is to maintain the course of action started on Nov 30. The latest minor concessions from the government and the areas still open to negotiation can be seen on the branch website. A form has been set up for branch members to leave comments about further strike action. Branch members are invited to leave comments on the the form on the website to let us know what they think.
The government has made some concessions on their original plan for our pensions. When discussed in the branch they were regarded as divisive, encoluraging older workers to vote for a worse deal for younger workers.
The basics we voted to strike over have not changed for the majority - we will still be expected to pay more - work longer and get less.
Public sector workers are still expected to make huge sacrifices to bail out the banking system. At the same time bankers continue to reap billions of pounds in bonuses. Please use the linlk on the front page to leave your comments about whether we should continue the action.
Below is the detail to the latest agreement:
- pension benefits earned up to April 2015 will be protected;
- there will be a career average revalued earnings (Care) scheme for future service from 1 April 2015 with a 1/54th accrual rate;
- it is based on annual earnings, which are banked with an agreed accrual rate and annual revaluation applied – the revaluation rate in the heads of agreement is CPI + 1.5%;
- a lower accrual rate and a good revaluation rate are significant factors in a good Care scheme;
- many UNISON members are women who work part-time – and a good Care scheme can be fairer to these members than a final-salary scheme;
- no increase in contributions this year for those NHS workers whose pensionable earnings are below £26,558 (full-time equivalent);
- contribution increases between 1.5% and 2.4% (of total pay) for those with pensionable earnings above £26,557 in 2012;
- there would be average member contributions of 9.8% (up from 6.5%) (for the period 2012-14 and doesn't reflect tiered contributions, which are still under discussion);
- 2013 and 2014 contribution rates are still under discussion, but increases will happen with the highest paid hit the hardest;
- members who are less than 10 years from their normal pension age at the 1 April 2012 will see no change over when they retire or how much they receive – including MHOs and those with special class status;
- those between 10 and 13.5 years from their normal pension age will have limited tapered protection, meaning they can stay in their current scheme for a limited period after 2015;
- the normal pension age in the new scheme will be equal to the state pension age, although more talks will take place around emergency services staff, with a tripartite review to look at the implications of working longer, with a particular focus on emergency services;
- the Fair Deal on pensions to apply to all TUPE transfers and subsequent transfers, with members able to remain in the NHSPS, and a review of how this will impact on staff transferred to Any Qualified Providers and social enterprises.
What are the outstanding issues still to be negotiated?
- contribution rates from 2013 onwards;
- flexible retirement;
- lump sum for death in service;
- flexible contribution rates, especially to encourage opt in;
- transfers between public-sector schemes;
- leavers who rejoin within five years;
- implications for 'total reward'.
And what happens next?Talks on these outstanding issues are due to be finalised over the coming weeks. For many of these issues – for instance, lump sum for death in service, abatement, leavers who rejoin after five years – there will be no change. For others, we will need to agree more detail.When the talks are finalised, the health service group executive will meet again to decide whether to make any recommendation in the ballot of members.Then we will ballot members who will have the final say on whether to accept the offer or continue industrial action on an immediate and sustained basis.A range of new materials will be developed to help branches and members to understand the latest pension proposals. These will include detailed guidance, case studies and updated pensions calculators to show what the proposals would mean for individual members.We will keep branches informed of the latest news regarding the negotiations and the future ballot – keep up to date on the pensions campaign section of the UNISON website at unison.org.uk/pensions/protectour.asp.