An often heated, two-hour debate around emergency motions on the recently announced proposals for the future Local Government Pension scheme (LGPS) dominated the opening day (Sunday 17 June) of UNISON’s 2012 Local Government conference.
Camden UNISON schools convenor Hugo Pierre and branch secretary George Binette were among more than 15 speakers in the debate. Both argued forcefully in favour of the branch’s motion calling for rejection of the LGPS offer in the forthcoming ballot of UNISON members working for employers covered by the pension scheme. The motion made a clear call on the conference to argue for rejection of the current proposals and moves to restart industrial action in alliance with other unions in opposition to an offer that sounds the death knell for a final salary scheme and concedes a link to the rising state retirement age. While they and other opponents of the LGPS ‘deal’ struck a resonant chord with many delegates, the influence of the ‘top table’ (members of the Service Group Executive and full-time national officials) commanded majority support.
In the end delegates voted in favour of a motion from the Manchester and Croydon branches, which meant that all the other motions under debate (including Camden’s) were defeated. As a result a consultation exercise across branches in England and Wales is supposed to inform the decision by Service Group Executive members about any recommendation in the ballot. Ballot papers are now scheduled to go out to members’ home addresses from 31 July, with a closing date of 24 August. Many speakers, of course, pointed out that this schedule coincides with the school holidays, but the union’s Head of Local Government, Heather Wakefield, insisted that the Government’s schedule for official consultation meant the unions had no other choice but to rush the exercise to completion by 1 September.
Camden UNISON delegates also spoke on several other motions regarding health and safety, the two-tier workforce and opposition to Academy schools, where an extensive debate led to the defeat of a motion that could have opened the door to the union dropping its principled opposition to such schools. A highlight of Monday (18 June) morning was a ‘maiden’ speech by a Camden UNISON steward on the NSL parking contract, which highlighted the background to the branch’s current strike ballot against low pay for these workers.
STOP PRESS: UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis will deliver his annual conference speech on Tuesday (19 June) afternoon, where he’s expected to announce a union-wide campaign against the public sector pay freeze as well as emphasising the importance of the TUC-called demonstration against austerity policies on Saturday 20 October 2012. MORE DETAILS LATER IN THE WEEK.