TUC says "strike" because of hugely damaging changes to pensions, Lansley says "don't strike" - just work a bit longer and pay a bit more
Up to three million workers including nurses, head teachers, careworkers and physiotherapists are set to take part in industrial action over pension reforms. Eleven trade unions have (at the time of writing) called a collective day of strike action on 30 November, warning the government that Britain faces the "biggest mobilisation in a generation" unless ministers rethink "hugely damaging" changes to public sector pension schemes.
The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "The intention will be to take the call for pensions justice for both public and private sector workers to every corner of the land on that day in the biggest trade union mobilisation in a generation." And the GMB union, which has more than 300,000 public sector members, has warned that the action could spread into next summer, hitting the London Olympics and the Queen's Jubilee.
In Northern Ireland, members of one of the main public sector unions, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa), will also go on strike on 30 November. The union's general secretary Brian Campfield said the vote in favour of industrial action reflected anger over attacks on pensions, pay and jobs.
On the other side of the debate (for we must present a balanced picture), Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has said at the NHS Employers Annual Conference and Exhibition this month that NHS staff should not strike at the end of this month, as a new offer put forward by the government (at the beginning of November) "significantly exceeds" Lord Hutton's recommendations on pension reforms. He said it was important to reach an agreement on pensions that was both fair to staff and to taxpayers.
"We all know that the circumstances have changed. We are living for longer, we are drawing our pensions for longer and old calculations are out of date. While I wish it were not so, we cannot deny the fact that without change the current pensions scheme is unsustainable. To compensate for that, people will need to work a bit longer and they will need to pay a bit more," he said.
The new offer protects pension rights that people have earned to date, and will ensure that those on low and middle incomes working a full career will receive pension benefits "at least as good if not better" than they get now when they come to retire at their new pension age, Lansley argued. He added: "And of those with less than 10 years to retirement will see no change in their pension. To get the same on the private market, a public sector worker will need to contribute around a third of their salary every year."
Chair of BOSTU, Lesley-Anne Baxter, countered: "Regrettably, the Society feels it has no option but to vigorously support those taking action on the 30thNovember and still hold the right to ballot for action in the New Year and beyond, if necessary. We believe that the proposals as they stand are both neither fair nor justified, and fall well short of what is needed to achieve an acceptable settlement."
Activities in your area
As plans are finalised for events around the country on 30 November, they have been circulated to BOSTU members and are detailed on the False Economy website http://pensionsjustice.org.uk/. False Economy is an open site for campaigners, and if you’re organising your own event, you can add it directly to the site. There is a map detailing all local events.
Advice to BOS TU members – how you can support the action
BOS TU members, including agency staff and students, should attend work as normal – failure to do so is likely to be a breach of contract. You should:
not cover the work of another colleague or colleagues taking industrial action
avoid any voluntary overtime work (paid or unpaid) to cover the work of those taking industrial action
avoid any bank or agency work to cover the work of those involved in the industrial action.
You can, of course, in your own time, support the action of colleagues by attending demonstrations, meetings and signing petitions either on or off Trust property.
Activities will be taking place around the country to raise awareness; you can show support in the ways outlines above and explain to patients and the public why we are taking action (see below). Talk to colleagues, friends and the local community about how they can get involved by joining in activities, writing supporting letters to local papers and MPs and standing together with health workers. The message is "stand up for your pension – stand together on 30 November".
What to say to patients and the public
Why are some unions on strike and why is BOS TU supportive of the action?
The Proposed higher pension contributions would cut take-home pay by hundreds and in some cases thousands of pounds every year and the retirement age would eventually push up the age for retiring on a full pension to 68 and possibly even further, depending on State Pension Age changes.
Why not negotiate?
Trade unions and professional organisations representing staff across the NHS have been engaged in months of intense negotiations with government ministers but meaningful talks have been stifled by the constraints imposed by the Treasury. The government has made some movement recently, but unless and until real progress and acceptable offers are made within the schemes, unions are pressing ahead with plans. This includes unions working together to cover emergency services and maintain patient safety.
BOS TU Response to the Latest Pensions offer
Orthoptists often retire earlier and so will be severely hit by any planned pension decrease; we support the action on 30thNovember.
The offer made by the Treasury on 2ndNovember represents a (belated) step in the right direction, but the Government’s proposals as a whole will still hit members extremely hard.
We know that Orthoptists may have lower back and neck and shoulder problems as they get older due to the nature of the work and members have told us that they may have no option but to retire earlier, and therefore will suffer a large actuarial reduction in the value of their pensions – a fact not taken into account in any of the examples published by Government. The protection arrangements announced will be of benefit to older NHS staff, but the majority of members under the age of 40 (and the vast majority under the age of 50) will not benefit.
The proposed 50% increase in contribution rates starting from April 2012 will impact on almost every single BOS member, at a time when most are already feeling under financial pressure and are not receiving any increase in pay due to the government’s two-year pay freeze. Members agreed to increase their pensions contributions as part of the changes introduced in 2008, but the Society feels that the latest proposed increase is being introduced for reasons other than the health of the NHS pension scheme.
The improvement in the accrual rate for any future CARE scheme is recognised, but it still remains a fact that a profession such as ours who work hard to develop their clinical skills for the benefit of patients will be penalised in pension terms by the introduction of a CARE scheme in this way.
Finally, the move already taken by Government to change the basis on which pension increases are indexed from RPI (retail price index) to CPI (consumer price index) will affect every BOS member when they come to draw their pensions.
Regrettably, the Society feels it has no option but to vigorously support those taking action on the 30thNovember and still hold the right to ballot for action in the New Year and beyond, if necessary. We believe that the proposals as they stand are both neither fair nor justified, and fall well short of what is needed to achieve an acceptable settlement. We will, however, continue to play a full role in the scheme-specific discussions that are finally now starting in earnest, as we did in the negotiations that led up to the 2008 agreement.
Our aim of trying to achieve a negotiated settlement is unchanged. We will keep all BOS members up to date with the national discussions taking place and hope you will be able to support your colleagues who may be taking strike action on the 30thNovember.
Lesle-Anne Baxter email@example.com
Chair, BIOS & BOS TU