Trade unionists slam calling-off of local government strikes

Submitted by AWL on 14 April, 2006 - 5:24

Leaflet from Unison United Left commenting on the local government unions' decision to call off the industrial action, continuing the campaign against pension cuts, due on 25-27 April.

No Time to Call Off Action

Local Government workers across the UK have reacted with alarm and anger at the news that all further action in our pensions dispute has been suspended pending further talks with the Local Government Association.

This despite the fact that there is no concrete offer from the employers, merely an agreement to framework talks with "nothing ruled in and nothing ruled out".

The success of the massive united national strike action on 28 March, and the threat of further Regional and national strike action in the run up to May's local elections, coupled with UNISON's ground breaking decision to withhold any financial and other support to Labour at national and local levels until the pensions issue is resolved, has clearly put huge pressure on John Prescott and Council employers.

They have been forced to discuss how 50% of any savings from scrapping the "Rule of 85" (which currently allows Local Government Scheme members to retire at 60 with an unreduced pension if their age plus service is 85 or greater), and new commutation rules (by which people can trade a lower ongoing pension for a bigger lump sum on retirement), can be used to fund protection for existing scheme members and improvements to the pension scheme.

This does not even guarantee that existing LGPS members will receive the same deal on lifetime protection offered to the rest of the public sector, still less protect future scheme members. UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, and UNISON's national leadership had insisted that equal treatment for LGPS members was the absolute bottom line on pensions. But action has been suspended without securing this.

Talks are now scheduled to run on into June, taking us past the local elections. Members were already gearing up to build on the success of 28 March with the series of regional strikes and demonstrations from 25 - 27 April and there was real enthusiasm for the prospect of two days national action on 3 and 4 May, including local election day. The best way to enter further negotiations is with the strength of further industrial action behind our negotiators, not with a suspension of action.

Suspending action now runs the risk of losing momentum. The government and employers may hope to sit out the elections and not come up with an acceptable offer. Our members may feel they have been marched to the top of the hill, only to be marched back down again.

In France workers and students forced a total retreat on reactionary labour laws by building and maintaining the momentum of their action and by refusing to suspend it when the government offered concessions.

UNISON's leadership has stated that other unions had backed the suspension of action without consulting their members. If this is true, UNISON officials should have insisted on the principle of unity and - if necessary - have been prepared to call the bluff of any union saying it would withdraw from the campaign without consulting the members involved. We should certainly value trade union unity - but not at this potentially damaging price.

Above all it is wrong to suspend action without consulting the full membership. We must ensure that any offer that emerges is properly discussed by a recalled service group conference or other branch delegate based body and submitted to a ballot of all affected members.

What You Can Do Now

* Send Protests about the suspension of action to Unison HQ

* Demand Regular Updates on Negotiations

* Call For the Labour Link not to re-instate Support for Labour until the dispute is resolved

* Maintain Local Strike Committees

* Demand that any offer goes to a recalled Service Group Conference and a ballot of the affected members.

Comment from Ed Whitby (AWL)

Well done for getting about a bulletin so swiftly.

But does the UUL not have a position of opposing protection deals? Are we not in favour of winning deals in pay and conditions (incl pensions) which are for future workers as well as our existing members?

I know that the bulletin says: "it does not even offer protection for existing members"

But isn't it important to say that our leadership should be fighting for the rights of all workers and future workers to retire at 60 with no loss? Should we not be making it clear that we are calling on the leadership to defend the right to retire at 60 and for all workers to be in the same scheme?

I think we should be saying: "no two tier pension scheme". If the employers come back and then offer protection, I think we should be as a union calling to reject this and fight for future workers.

I also think we should be mindful of the Government threats to the state pension. The Turner Commission's final report last week called for raising the retirement age to 68 or 69.

This also affects the age at which many of our members will actually be able to retire, especially low-paid and part-time workers.

We should see our struggle as creating the conditions where a movement can also beat these attacks.

Joint statement from unions and employers on further talks over the future of the local government pension scheme

1. The statement by the Minister for Local Government on 30th March laying Parliamentary Orders, including the Order to abolish the Rule of 85 from October 2006, provides a framework for developing a new-look scheme. He said that "in the light of discussions held yesterday with the Trade Unions and Local Government Employers, we are calling on both sides to begin talks, to start now on a nothing rule in nothing ruled out basis, to address the protection of existing Scheme members, the recycling of savings, and the development of a more equitable Scheme".

The Minister also said on 28th March that "a key element of these discussions which have already begun within the framework provided by the Tripartite Committee will be to address positively the concerns expressed about the position of existing scheme members who contrast their particular circumstances with the agreement reached in October 2005 by other but unfunded public service Pension Schemes. The government intends that these reforms can be guided by the principle that up to half of the savings achieved by the final removal of the rule of 85 can be re-cycled into the development of whatever benefit package is felt by the Stakeholders and membership to be appropriate for the new-look 2008 Scheme".

2. All participants are firmly committed to change in pension provision, now and in the future, being made by agreement as far as possible, respecting the role of the DPM as regulator.

3. This commitment to create a new-look scheme should encompass all issues raised by the participants within the context of the Parliamentary orders and related Ministerial statements. The scheme must be sustainable and affordable for employers and as a key element of the renumeration, recruitment and retention package for Local Government employees and those belonging to admitted bodies.

4. The following specific action points are emphasised by the participants to be addressed during this process:

Work to resolve the outstanding differences in relevant actuarial assessments to be undertaken immediately and all emerging proposals to be assessed by professional advisers appointed by the participants.

50% of the savings accruing from the abolition of the Rule of 85, and of savings from the revised commutation arrangements, to be made available to fund scheme improvements, including protection arrangements for existing staff, and creating a more equitable and affordable Scheme.

Urgent negotiations to take place incorporating discussions on affordable protection to existing staff, including full protection, and on developing a good quality, sustainable and affordable new-look LGPS going forward, equality proofed with greater choice and flexibility on when and how members move from employment to retirement and having regard to the respective contributions of employers and employees, taking account of appropriate actuarial and legal advice.

5. All participants are committed to concluding the first phase of these negotiations in order to report to the Tripartite Committee in June. The Minister said in his 30th March statement that "the Government stands prepared to introduce further amendments before the summer recess to update the regulations in the light of any agreed proposals which emerge from the talks between the Trade Unions and Local Government Employers".

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