UNISON members vote “Yes” in pensions strike ballot

UNISON members in local government, the health service and the civil service have overwhelmingly voted “yes” to strike action in an unprecedented national ballot over the attack on public sector pension schemes. There was a 76% “yes” vote among those of us in UNISON’s English and Welsh local government branches. Together with members of the NUT, PCS and (subject to their ballot results) Unite and the GMB, we look set for strike action on 30 November 2011 in defence of our pensions. More people could be participating in this strike than in any in Britain since 1926.

Along with council workers, all UNISON members working for employers that are ‘admitted bodies’ to the Local Government Pension Scheme are expected to participate in any industrial action that takes place and not to cross our picket lines. Non-members should also join UNISON and take part in the action, since the detrimental changes to our pensions will affect us all.

Much of the media coverage of the 2nd November statement by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, has suggested that the Government has made a dramatically improved offer. At present the only offer for members of the Local Government Pension Scheme for the period from April next year to April 2015 consists of the two options unveiled on 30 September, both of which involved worse accrual rates and contribution rises. Although there are small steps in the right direction – maintaining the current rate at which members accrue pensions at 1/60th per year of service as opposed to a threatened 1/65th (or 67th) and exempting workers within 10 years of retirement from some of the detrimental proposals – they do not meet our very legitimate concerns.

Remember that the Government is:
•    Still reducing the rate at which pension payments rise by using a lower inflation rate (CPI rather than RPI);
•    Still talking pushing for an ‘average salary’ rather than a ‘final salary’ scheme and,
•    Crucially, there would still be big rises in our pension contributions. In an atmosphere of a continuing pay freeze where the local government employers have not increased our salaries since 2009 (for many an effective pay cut of 11.6%), it is an outrageous cheek to ask public sector workers to “pay more for less” for pensions provision.

The Alexander statement was also silent about the fate of the ‘Fair Deal’, which has offered pension protection to public sector workers faced with outsouricng of their jobs. We can only assume that the Government will only retain some form of the Fair Deal on the basis of a worse overall scheme.

There will be a propaganda onslaught from the government, from business interests and from many media pundits against the trade unions – but we must stand firm and counter their lies and misrepresentations.

They will say that a 76% “yes” vote on a 30% turnout is not a sufficient mandate – but only 23.5% of the electorate voted for the Conservatives at the last general election, yet this gives them license to attack jobs, services and pensions.

They will also repeat the myth that we have “gold-plated” pensions, when, in fact, the real gold-plated pensions are those amassed by company directors and leading lights in the City. Top company directors have pension pots that could get them an average of nearly £225,000 a year when they retire – 34 times the average public sector pension! Not only that, but directors have seen pay soar by 49% this year! So much for the claim that “we are all in it together”. As the protesters at St Paul’s and elsewhere have been pointing out: the top 1% are doing very well for themselves, while most of us in the other 99% are suffering from austerity measures.

They will also claim that we are “out of line” with the private sector, even though that is really a case for private employers to give their employees better pensions provision. A cut in our pensions won’t help private sector workers. The only things that will help them are strong trade unions and collective action, which can then improve pensions provision across the board so we can all have a decent standard of living in retirement.

Please see the national UNISON website for further press releases and information.

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