Tuesday, January 10, 2012

UNISON Pensions decision: jaw-jaw better than war-war (for now)

In a victory for common sense UNISON elected lay reps have voted to continue with negotiations
over Local Government and NHS pensions.

This morning there was a two hour Pension Summit with 250 senior lay reps present were it was clear that an overwhelming majority of branches, up and down the country, wanted negotiations to continue.  While reserving the right to call further action if these talks break down. Their was near unanimous agreement that there had been a significant improvement in the offer over pensions and that we had a duty to talk not walk.

Next there were separate detailed briefings on the Local Government and NHS pension schemes after which the different Service Group Executive's (SGE)  met and debated on what to do next.  I am really pleased that all the SGE's voted to talk further. 

One sour point in an otherwise positive and constructive day is that it is clear that certain "individuals" outside the union have been telling completely despicable lies about UNISON and trying to interfere in our internal democratic process.  Now while I can respect the opinion of those who genuinely feel that UNISON have made a wrong call.  This is the decision of our democratically elected representatives. What many UNISON reps will not tolerate is unrepresentative, ultra left sects playing out their toy town revolutionary fantasies at our expense. We will not do what we are told to do and think by rule or ruin wreckers and splitters.


Anonymous said...

Hi John, I'm a worker who is more than 10 years away from retirment.

Please tell me what has improved in the Govt's offer since N30.


John Gray said...

Hi Anon

So am I

There will be the powerpoints on the website we saw today but what about this for:-

Zero contribution increases for most members and no change in contributions, if required, until 2014

Maintain the inherent and relative value of the pension to other public sector schemes

Prevent opt-out from the scheme and encouraging new members

Keep Admitted Body Status

Ensure employers maintain the required contribution levels

Establish new governance mechanisms at scheme and individual fund levels to ensure good governance and reduce central government intervention

Negotiation - rather than imposition - of future changes post 2014 - if any are necessary

Improve efficiency through a review of procurement, fund management and administration

Monty Watermelon said...

I think what you seem to be accepting is the governement line that changes are needed to our pension schemes. I don't believe that this is the case and feel strongly that the governement would be attacking our pensions whether there was a recession or not.

As for the contribution increase delay this is not a concession at all we should not have to pay more right?! work longer?! and get less!? which is what will happen if the changes go through in 2014.

On the contributions the delay is not due to any benevolent approach being taken by the tories but rather because the law stipulates that employer contributions cannot be changed before a valuation of the scheme is undertaken. This is due to happen in March 2013 too close to the start of the financial year to make the necessary chnges before 2014. Hardly a great deal!

Finally I think that the unity across the union movement was a really positive thing and this has been lost now UNISON has agreed to negotiate this undermines the dispute for other unions who wish to pursue the matter further.

I'm with you John I think it is better to talk than pointlessly fight but in this case the only thing we'll get as a result of talking is a poorer pension on our retirement.

John Gray said...

Hi MW (yeah)

Let me be very clear that no-one has accepted anything, there is no deal, the strike ballot is still live, we can resume industrial action at any time. There is an agreement to talk only.

Our members are not stupid, they know that there has been an improvement in the offer by the government and they will expect us to do our level best to see if we can come up with an acceptable deal. Please read above what the framework actually says and not the rubbish going around by those who have no interest in negotiations whatsoever.

I’m sorry but the stuff that some law stipulates that employer contributions cannot be changed for a valuation is complete and utter nonsense. What law? Why doesn’t anyone reference this assertion? I’ve never come across this at all in 16 years as a LGPS pension rep. I spoke to an actuary who confirmed that there is no such law at all. It is nonsense. I am forced to conclude that this is a deliberate untruth.

“Unity” alone will not get members out on strike, losing pay, if they feel that there is a possible deal on the table. The public sector schemes are very different and sector specific and quite rightly the last time there was negotiations over public pensions, if the different unions thought they had an acceptable deal then they made it. Regardless of the UNISON position at the time.

One thing I am perfectly clear on is that the LGPS (unlike the rest a funded scheme) does need to change. It does need to radically change its governance. We have 101 different schemes all employing different investment advisors, independent chairs, actuaries, legal advisors, bankers, insurers, deed holders, auditors etc. etc. We need to stop it being ripped off by the financial services industry and agree minimum funding levels by all employers.

Anonymous said...

John -

have you ignored the massive hike in retirement age?
whilst you say members will be balloted, you must realise that the national leadership have in fact endorsed the principles of the deal.

Don't you think the government will come back at us in a couple of years time, with renewed confidence and facing a trade union movement with a smaller membership base as hundreds of thousands are laid off and services are privatised.

Fundamentally you agree that there needs to be cuts and that workers should pay for it.

It's time for UNISON to stop following the tune of the labour party - too deep, too fast. there isn't any need for cuts and that's the position UNISON should be taking . Not spouting lies in the lead up to the pension summit that the strikes were a failure, 'damage limitation' and that the north west region should be bother striking because the southern regions haven't got the stomach.

You'll pay for your sell out through the ballot box. You may have forgotten your class a long time ago but the rank and file certainly won't.

Monty Watermelon said...

Hi John

firstly my name is Matthew Waterfall and I am Secretary of Hackney Unison (although i think having now declared this I need set out that these are my own personal opinions right)so I really do understand the arguments and am able to take a balanced view on the 'sell out' debate that is ongoing. I also have a detailed understanding of the LGPS.

To clear up a few bits straight away on the law I should have said regulations. The relevent bit is here: http://timeline.lge.gov.uk/LGPS2008Regs/SI20110561/20080239.htm section 36 to be exact which sets out that the actuary must first value the scheme before deciding on the employers contributions and that the decision on the level at which these should be set must take into consideration the 'solvency' of the scheme.

Therefore my understanding is that as the stock market is flagging so too is our fund and as such it would be difficult at this current time for the actuary to recommend a reduction in employer subs.

So hopefully that explains my earlier assertions as it was certainly not my intention to deliberately spread an 'untruth'.

Next I fully agree with you on what you say about reforming the scheme to cut down on those administering it. Much money could be saved by simply combining the 101 schemes. This would also serve to bolster the LGPS investment position in the markets as the largest scheme in the country. This should be done and could be done without making us pay more for less etc, etc.

Now to the framework which i have read several times, digested and translated into a briefing paper for the membners I represent. I am clear on what has been salvaged from the scrummage and I am sure of this, we have not been offered anything more than some aspects of what we already have.

Sure, admitted body status is important, very important especially in boroughs like Hackney where the majority of services are still in house. However we already have this and we should not be congratulating ourselves on the fact that we have managed to keep it.

Improved efficiency and better governence is no concession for me but rather what should be happening already. I should not be forced onto a CARE scheme because the fund managers have failed to manage it properly this would be wholly unfair.

As for the maintenence of the value of the scheme well this is fine too but if the value of all other schemes in the public sector falls then so too will ours in line with the others right!

What I am saying John is not that we should strike for the sake of it or that we should refuse to negotiate. I am rather pointing out the reality of the situation which is that the negotiations will not and have not so far result in us receiving any more but only getting less, working longer and paying more either now or in 2014.

If you share the view that our pensions did not cause the recession and understand that robbing peter to pay paul now will only result in peter being skint in his retirement then I find it difficult to grasp why you should be so keen on this deal/offer/position.

As a labour man I am also sure that you know that the Tories would be trying to nick our pension whether the greeks were being bailed out or not. This has little to do with deficits and a lot to do with the ideolgy of the Consevrative party. Lets face it they have form on this and the reason we have deficits in so many of the 101 funds is due to their policy in the 90s of subsidising poll tax bills through 'pensions holidays' for the employers.

Finally (and sorry for the long post) I do not agree with the 'ultra left sects' as you call them on a lot of issues and i find the tendancy of some groups (and not everyone in those groups) to endlessly chirp reductionist slogans frustrating, however I am also weary of the Labour party(and not everyone in it) who in their position of relative power could be doing a lot more to fight the public sectors corner and stick up for all of our pensions.



John Gray said...

Hi Anon

Sorry you are completely wrong and misadvised. There is no “deal” to endorse, it’s the elected lay service group not the National leadership who made an overwhelming decision to agree to talks. Nothing more and nothing less.

Yes, of course the government will have a go at us in the future. That is what Tories do. The government not the unions have been shaken because we delivered during this dispute. The reason we delivered was because the members trusted the union to act in their best interests at all times.

Now I accept that some activists genuinely think that it is best to have gone back on strike but there has also been a tiny number of ultra left fantasists such as yourself who have been slobbering at the prospect of strikes. I am convinced that if we refused to talk, if we refused to negotiate, our members would think we have completely crackers. You can tell this by the sheer size of the majority of branches who have supported talks.

I actually think that the deficit should be paid by a fairer and progressive taxation system. That means winning elections and not losing deposits.

BTW – when you lot realise that the Labour Party is not in power, it is not “the government” anymore???

I am always proud to stand on my record and my politics at all elections. Some elections I lose, most I win. That is life, that is democracy. La La extremists such as you actually despise working class people you think they are too stupid to know what is good for them.

I know what working class people think of you lot.

John Gray said...

Hi Matthew

Thank you for explaining who you actually are, I have a good friend called “Monty” (former UNISON Caretaker) and I thought someone was taking the mick using the name Monty Watermelon!

Thank you also for explaining the use of a regulation rather than a law. If a LGPS regulation caused a problem to the government then it can be changed relatively easily. As it is Employee contributions (which we are primarily concerned) could have been legally increased as planned in April 2012. Also I would have thought that if an employer contribution reduction was offset by rises in employee subs at the same time, then I cannot see how the actuary could object to that?

I tend to agree with you about LGPS governance reform. I am not sure that a single scheme is the right way forward.

Admitted body status and continuation of “Fair deal” is hugely importance. Especially to my members in the Community Service Group. 25% of all members of the LGPS (and me!) are in an admitted body. Your pension Matthew and the future of your members in Hackney LGPS depend on keeping and recruiting active members into the scheme. There is also stuff that I would rather not go into in a public blog but I am sure as an experienced branch secretary you will know what I am thinking.

“Improved efficiency and better governance” is absolutely vital, not only to the continual existence of the scheme, but also to Council residents and even the economic well being of the nation. The LGPS generates huge amounts of overseas income for this country.

In many LGPS’s there is no employee representation whatsoever unlike private schemes who have up to 50% trustees. How do you know that your investments are properly managed and that your employer is paying the correct level of contributions? (I am sure that Hackney being a Labour Council is of course)

I don’t think anyone should write off career average schemes. Especially in UNISON. CARE schemes can be better value for our members (who are 70/80% female and many part time) than final salary which tend to benefit very senior managers. The devil is in the detail. If we get what appears to be on the table then the LGPS will overall retain its value and for some it may even be improved. This is another reason why we have to talk.

Again Matthew I can only suggest that you look again at the framework agreements. You cannot write off negotiations that haven’t happened yet. I really don’t know how these negotiations will pan out and what the “deal” will be. I think we can do a deal. But I do know that our members will never forgive us for walking away and expect them to go on strike, lose money, without us finding out more.

I agree about the role of past pension contribution holidays (there are other pension mistakes – I will admit that the Labour government should have not taxed pension on dividends)

I also think that the Labour Party could have done more over the pensions dispute (it has done a lot and many Labour Councils have been hugely supportive. UNISON Labour link has played a really important role in my view).

So my message to you and those like you (the test is “have you now or ever lost the will to live and been bored near to death at countless union meetings by sloganising reductionists”) to join the Party and work within to promote the voice of ordinary union members within it.

Must meet properly sometime. Beer and Curry? (now there is an offer you can’t refuse)

Anonymous said...

i like the part that our great union [the union for real Workers] has left Unite holding there dicks, they tried to bully us, attack us, and undermine us, this dispute has shown how weak UNITE are and how they attack other Unions that wont be drawn into there swp loon agenda, im a low paid NHS WORKER [for 33years] seen it all, been solid union from day one, still spend hours of my own spare time doing my members casework, [your never see a trott doing likewise] there to interested in pissing about in the gutter trying to sell papers no one wants or in a pub on there employers time, this i have seen first hand in my south east london workplace, harsh but all true,