“Hands off our pensions” was the rallying cry to public sector workers as a series of union leaders served notice of strike action ballots over pension reforms.
In proposing a motion for supporting mass public sector walkouts, the leader of one of the UK’s largest healthcare unions issued a formal notice to 9,000 employers that his 1.1 million union members would be balloted.
“We have had enough. We have been talking [with the government] for eight months and if we don’t say no now, they will be back for more and more,” Unison leader Dave Prentis told the TUC annual conference.
“We will negotiate any time, any place but if they impose change we will take industrial action.
“Now is the time to make a stand.”
In light of an ageing population, the government is looking to increase pension contributions among public sector workers from April 2012.
It is argued this will allow pension schemes to remain ‘sustainable’.
“The NHS pension will remain one of the very best available, providing a guaranteed pension level for all employees,” a spokesperson from the Department of Health told Managment in Practice.
“We will also protect the pensions people have already earned. None of the rights people have accrued will be affected.
“But the status quo is not sustainable, with people living much longer, substantially increasing the cost to the taxpayer. Lord Hutton made it absolutely clear that there needs to be a fairer balance between what employees and taxpayers contribute to public service pensions.
“Constructive talks on pensions are still ongoing. It would be very wrong to make assumptions about their outcome.”
Unison will be joined by a multitude of other unions representing public sector workers such as Unite, GMB and the Fire Brigade’s Union in consulting with members over co-ordinated strike action starting on the 30 November.
Prentis warned his members strike action will not be easy and those who do strike will be “vilified”.
“Make no mistake, this is it. We are determined and we are united in fighting for what is right,” he said.
“Hands off our pensions.”
Prentis’ rousing speech won a standing ovation from the 300 TUC delegates and was backed by a number of other union representatives.
Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite – which represents some 100,000 healthcare workers, also gave notice of the union’s intention to strike.
“When the coalition came to power, we knew we would face the fight of our lives. We knew they would try to divide and weaken us,” said Cartmail.
“We are a responsible union and have attended every meeting with government representatives over pension reforms. While we will not walk away from talks, we are also not going to just sit on our hands.”
The motion for united strike action was backed unanimously by TUC delegates.
A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesperson told Management in Practice BMA strike action “will not necessarily follow” after today’s (14 September) announcements.
“The situation hasn’t changed from our point of view. Our preferred way forward is still to reach an agreement with the government through negotiation, and industrial action is a last resort,” said the spokesperson.
“We’re in close contact with the other health unions, and as a group we’ll be looking at all issues relating to the negotiations, including the possibility of industrial action in the event that talks fail to make progress.
“It doesn’t necessarily follow that a decision to take action by another NHS union means the BMA will take the same action.
“Any form of legal industrial action by doctors first requires a decision by BMA Council, and then a positive result in a ballot of the profession.”
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, told TUC delegates government ministers will have to come up with “new ideas” if negotiation talks are to be given a chance. If they fail to deliver, he argued unions are “justified” in their decision to strike.
Are unions right to strike over pension reforms? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
“I dont know how public sector can strike at all they are lucky they have been given jobs at the privalige of abusing the likes of me as i have expirenced difficulty no suport and my life destroyed by these people for a decade now almost in your union from police gps etc” – Mark Booth, Leicestershire
“Yes they are. These hardworkers should not pay the price. If the government want money, they should get it back from the banks. Firefighters and police currently pay more for their pension than any other service or private sector – 11% compared to the average private pension at 4.7%. The pensions that they pay into have often been good pensions. This is to off set their poor pay for their working duration. Imposed changes would see firefighters working up to 65 years old. They won’t be any use trying to rescue people at that age. Their early than usual retirement age is because they’re not expected to live as long as the public once retired because of the nature of the work they did. Support the defence for the private sector. They’re the ones protecting you everyday” – Steven King, Buckinghamshire