Gill George from Unite's Health Sector National Committee posted the following to the healthactivists list. This is a model for what other members of public sector union executives should do. We must find ways to hold emergency meetings at all levels of the movement to discuss the proposals and assert some democratic, lay member control over our dispute.
An excellent telephone conference took place this afternoon of Unite’s Health Sector National Committee, to decide our position on the Government’s latest pensions offer.
The Officer responsible for Health Sector pension negotiations outlined the (extraordinarily trivial) concessions that the Government has made. She also advised us of the Government’s threat that if the ‘deal’ was not signed up to within the next 90 minutes, a worse outcome would be imposed, and any union not agreeing would be excluded from all future negotiations. What we were asked was if we would sign up to a ‘Heads of Agreement’ letter that accepted the principles of the Government’s offer and make a commitment to call off any further strike action.
So what’s on offer? Accrual rates have been increased to 1/54. ‘Fair deal’ provisions will apply to anyone transferred out of the NHS and to subsequent TUPE transfers. The (partial) protection for people within ten years of normal retirement age remains. There’s some tapering protection introduced to cover an additional 2 ½ years.
There’s no movement on the NHS pensions not being payable until state retirement age – now 67 for most, and increasing to 68 in the future. No movement on the change from RPI to CPI, with all the losses around that. No shift in the loss of final salary pensions and the introduction of a career average pension, to the major detriment of many women and anyone with an irregular employment history. Pensions contributions are to go up as planned in 2012, with future years still the subject of consultation. On a whole number of key areas, there had been no change at all.
The feeling amongst NISC members was close to unanimous. We were clear that nothing fundamental has changed – we’re still being asked to work longer, pay more, and get less. The overwhelming view was that November 30th had been great, our members had always known one day would not be enough, members were asking what we were going to do next – and would feel totally let down if Unite capitulated. Several said that members would leave the union. We understood that if we blink first on pensions, it’s an open door for all the other Tory attacks coming our way – 710,000 public sector jobs going, two more years of pay cuts, the attack on national pay bargaining and so on. Several of us talked about Unite giving a lead within the NHS and the wider public sector, with opportunities for new alliances; others felt we would go it alone if we had to.
The consensus was clear, and was summed up by one participant: ‘It’s the overwhelming view - no, that deal is not acceptable’. We strongly rejected the ‘Heads of Agreement’ letter.
This was a good discussion, with a good outcome – one positive strand within a multi-layered battle that is taking place today. I genuinely don’t know and wouldn’t want to guess what’s happening more widely.