Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Save Our Pensions" Community Conference 2013

This is my speech from the Community Conference on Saturday on motion 23 (see text here "Save Our Pensions"). Which is a motion from my branch.

"John Gray speaking on behalf of your Service Group Executive, in favour of this motion and moving this amendment which is intended to update the original motion in light of recent developments.

Conference, please thank Tony (Power - my branch chair) for his excellent speech. From someone who to my personal knowledge has a led a terrific battle to save his pension and that of his colleagues. What I would like to add to the debate here is that no one should be under any illusions about pensions.

The only hope for you and your members have of having a dignified retirement is a well funded and secure employer retirement plan.

You cannot rely on the state pension. The flawed Government plan for a new universal state pension will only provide at best an income just above the absolute poverty line

As a Housing estate officer in the East End of London, I have seen first hand pensioners living in poverty, buying second hand clothes, eating out of date food, huddled in front of the TV in a freezing cold room because they are too scared to turn the heating on. Stuck in this freezing home because they have no money for trips or holidays and shamed that they are too poor to treat their grandchildren.

That is your future, your member’s future if you do not have a decent secure pension from your work.

Pensions are an expensive business. There is an old rule of thumb in the pension’s world that in order to retire on half your pay and a lump sum, you need to save 15% of your pay for 40 years, repeat 15% for 40 years.

Hardly anyone in the best of times can put 15% of their salary in a pension, never mind the times we live in now. That is why your employer will need to put in at least 10% plus into your pension or else it is condemning its work force to retire and die in poverty.

Conference, please remind your employers this when you negotiate over auto-enrollment and ask them the question do they as a responsible employer want their workers to enjoy or endure retirement. Ask them to do the maths. It is quite simple to work what they need to save on your behalf. Are they responsible employers or are they rogue employers?

Yet, what we increasingly find in practice is the exact opposite. As already pointed out by London Housing Associations branch, some employers, who in the past, were good employers and provided access to good quality defined benefit schemes are using the nonsensical and irrational accounting measures as an excuse to close these schemes and replace them with insecure poverty pensions.

They are closing schemes even in the knowledge that there is - as the amendment points out, an urgent government inquiry taking place on ways to change the way we value schemes which could get reduce or even get rid of many deficits.

There is a unholy alliance of the CBI, TUC and National Association of Pension funds who support change. So why has East Thames and Notting Hill Housing associations closed their scheme in recent weeks? why have others such as Barnardos announced similar intentions? what role did the Pension Trust and the Social Housing Pension fund play in bankrupting the charity PeopleCan the organisation Joe mentioned in his speech earlier today?

While our members are in a whole variety of pension schemes, this is important since our UNISON e-survey late last year found that 35% of our members are in Defined Benefit (DB) guaranteed pension schemes

DB guaranteed pension schemes are NOT a thing of the past. UNISON recently won access to the Local Government Pensions Scheme for new starters at South Lakes Housing Association. Wrekin and Telford Housing are offering all staff the LGPS as well.

Due to the behaviour of some employers and pension providers we also should welcome the call in this motion for the wider Labour movement to look into whether, we the unions, should be involved in providing decent pensions provision, as they do in many other countries.

Conference, while we welcome the plans to smooth valuations and replace them with more accurate estimates it is important that the government accepts and implements these accounting changes without delay and that our employers who are disgracefully still rushing to destroy their employees future when they know this inquiry will report soon, should pause and stop.

Conference please support this amendment and the motion. Thank you. (update UNISONactive take on conference)

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