The last year has been like no other for us in many ways – the pandemic has affected how we live and work and the Black Lives Matter movement has challenged racism in society and the workplace. This makes the branch AGM an important chance for us to discuss how we’ve responded to that and what we want to do over the next year. So please do join us at the online meeting and have your say. The Teams link and agenda has been emailed out to all members, if you haven’t received it or have any other queries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of you not only read about the government limiting the amount local government workers would receive if made redundant, you also wrote to the minister responsible for this, signed petitions and wrote to your MPs. The government pushed ahead with this and made it law in November. However, it faced a judicial review led by UNISON, and that combined with the campaigning you all did led to the Tories revoking the law after only 3 months.
The government, the Daily Mail and other right-wing cheerleaders said that these regulations were introduced to cut big pay outs to the highest paid public servants when they were made redundant. They set a ‘cap’ to pay outs of £95,000, which sounds a lot.
But in reality this payment cap meant that even lower paid staff could have been caught up by the law. In particular, it would have affected those in the local government pension scheme (LGPS) who were made redundant over the age of 55, as their benefits are payable immediately without any early retirement reduction.
Employers have to cover additional money for the early retirement (so-called ‘pension strain costs’) and when these are added on top off any redundancy payments, this can quickly mount up and exceed the £95,000 cap.
UNISON and other unions made a legal challenge that was due to be heard in a few weeks. However, just as we were finalising our evidence, the government backed down – sneaking out the news on a Friday evening, hoping to dampen down any press coverage! The government says that it has disapplied the regulations, with a view to revoking them completely, because it may have had ‘unintended consequences’.
It’s worth noting that these regulations would only have kicked in when someone was made redundant. And with thousands of jobs having already gone across public services over the last decade of austerity, one job going is still one too many.
The lesson for us here is that campaigning can work!
The government has put a cap on the amount you can get if you are made redundant at very short notice and with no meaningful consultation. Most people effected by this will be those who are made redundant who are over the age of 55. It will come into force on 4 November and means from then on, severance packages will not exceed a maximum of £95,000 in value. Although that can seem like a lot, it includes:
Statutory Redundancy Pay
Discretionary Severance Pay
Pension strain costs (see below)
Pension strain costs
Under current regulations a member made redundant or retired on the grounds of efficiency over the age of 55 has to take the pension they have earned in their current LGPS service immediately at the point of redundancy (including any previous LGPS service that a member has combined with the current service). This pension is not reduced by an early retirement factor for early payment as it would be if it was the member retiring voluntarily. The LGPS employer then must pay their LGPS fund the cost of removing the early retirement reduction. The cost is based on the member drawing their pension from their normal pension age. If they draw their pension before their normal retirement age, they are receiving their pension for longer. Depending on how early this can be very expensive and put a strain on the LGPS fund if not paid for. That is why the employer is asked to pay the fund for this cost. This is called the strain cost.
So how will this affect the £95,000 cap?
This strain cost that the employer pays will be included in the £95,000 exit cap. The cap will also include statutory redundancy pay and any other severance payments.
This means that even some low and medium paid staff may hit the cap if they have more than 30 years’ service and made redundant in their mid to late 50’s.
UNISON has consistently and strongly opposed all the above changes since they were first proposed in 2015 and will continue to do so through any means available.
UNISON is responding to the MHCLG consultation arguing that severance should not be eroded and is completely opposed to offsetting the severance payments, including Statutory Redundancy Pay, against payments to remove reductions for pensions for those over 55. This is penal and potentially discriminatory.
What can you do?
In recent email to members, we have attached letters for you to send in as part of the consultation – please do this as soon as possible. And please keep an eye on any further information we send to you in emails.
One of our neighbouring UNISON branches at SOAS (part of London University) has been campaigning against management plans to make almost 90 members of staff redundant at the end of this month, including cleaners, catering staff, admin and library workers.
At the Camden UNISON branch committee meeting in September, we agreed to support their planned strike action against the compulsory redundancies. However, as they were about to start striking, management asked to meet with the UNISON branch. At the meeting, management withdrew the threat of compulsory redundancies.
This is great news for a branch that was one of the first to support our traffic wardens when they were on strike both with donations and by visiting their picket lines. We were really pleased to be able to send a message of support and our Branch Secretary, Liz Wheatley, spoke at their online victory rally.
In the coming weeks, SOAS UNISON will be launching a new Fair Workloadcampaign to ensure that all SOAS staff have manageable workloads and are appropriately paid for the duties they perform in the new structure.
Camden UNISON sending solidarity greetings to Tower Hamlets UNISON on their strike against imposed changes to their contracts. It is particularly galling when the workers – many of them key workers were clapped for their work during the pandemic only to be “rewarded” with a slap of worse contracts and pay cuts
As well as the strike days, union members are undertaking “action short of a strike”. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have seen more members back strikes since the winter walkouts and this next wave of action will affect even more universities and students. If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions.”
At the Camden UNISON AGM we heard from a striker about what it’s like to work in a university today, and we voted unanimously to support their strike action and make a donation from the branch. A further £126.76 was collected by members in the meeting.
UNISON members working for Tower Hamlets Council and in Community Schools are getting ready to take strike action after smashing through the Tory industrial action threshold of 50% turnout. Members voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action to stop the imposition of a new contract that would worsen their terms and conditions. The ballot result was 98% of members in schools and 89.6% in councils voting to come out on strike!
Strikes will take place on 24 March and 1 and 2 April, with more dates planned after Easter. Camden UNISON will be publicising any marches/rallies and protests that members can support as soon as we have the details. It’s some time since we’ve had a strike across a whole Council and so they need to know fellow trade union members support them. Tower Hamlets UNISON was the single biggest donor to our traffic wardens when they were on strike, and members visited their picket lines and came on our marches so it’s time for us to return the solidarity! Camden UNISON has already agreed to send a message of support and make a donation to to both trade unions involved (UNISON and NEU, the teachers’ union).
The new Council contract will include cutting a range of allowances, slash severance pay, reduce the current flexi scheme and worsen pay on some grades.
The council are ironically calling the new contract ‘Tower Rewards’ but UNISON has rebranded it ‘Tower Robbery’.
The council issued 12 weeks’ notice to all council staff meaning if they don’t accept the new contract they will be sacked and out of a job on the 13 April 2020.
UNISON is now in talks with the NEU to coordinate strike action after teachers impacted by Tower Robbery also successfully voted to take industrial action.
Assistant Branch Secretary, Kerie Anne, said: “The council’s treatment of hardworking and dedicated staff providing public services has been shocking, as has the behaviour from senior managers through the consultation process. Rather than wearing UNISON members down it has had the opposite effect and galvanised the workforce to fight back. Disappointingly senior managers have not spoken to UNISON branch officers for months, preferring to communicate instead by a series of formal letters threatening to take the union to court to stop its ballots and raising other frivolous complaints. Now that they are faced with a concrete threat of a strike that has the potential to shut this borough down, Tower Hamlets Council must abandon its high handed and aggressive methods and begin genuine talks with us to settle this dispute.”
This week Camden UNISON officers joined University and College Union members on strike at their rally in Tavistock Square outside their employer’s HQ.
UCU members in 74 colleges began 14 days of strike action over pay, workload, equality, casualisation and pensions. The rally was extremely well attended by members from several colleges.
All of the speakers emphasised how important this struggle will be to determine the kind of education system for both staff and students. Plans are afoot to transform the educational sector in to a ‘free for all’ service industry where university and colleges compete with each other for student numbers by cutting academic posts, conditions and equality standards.
Liz Wheatley, Camden UNISON branch secretary, brought our solidarity to the rally, and spoke about our experience of successes like the NSL traffic wardens. She also spoke about how education should be valued, and without funding, how would we have the answers to address things like the climate emergency?
Issues that UCU members are on strike about have long being the focus of Camden UNISON’s campaigns, and our branch will support in any way it can other unions involved in the same fights.
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