Public sector pension talks jeopardised by naïve playground tactics

UNISON General Secretary, Dave Prentis, today (28 July 2011) rounded on Government ministers for putting public sector pension talks in “jeopardy” by their “naïve tactics” and apparent lack of negotiating skills. And called on them to abandon the playground games and get serious.

He said: “We entered into the scheme specific talks on public sector pensions in good faith and we genuinely believe we are making progress, albeit slowly. But these talks are being put in jeopardy by the crude and naïve tactics of Government ministers who don’t seem to understand the word ‘negotiate’.

“The government must take its responsibilities seriously, and stop treating these talks like some kind of playground game.

“Let’s not forget that these talks are about real people, hard-working individuals who signed up to, and pay into, a pension scheme that is supposed to cushion them against poverty in old age. Extra contributions won’t go back into the pension schemes, but straight to the Treasury to pay off the country’s deficit – effectively a tax on public sector workers to pay for the bankers’ mess. That is totally unjust.

“It is totally unhelpful to the progress of these talks to release their bargaining position as though it is set in stone. If it is set in stone, then there is no point in having a single further meeting.”

UNISON insists that any changes should be based on evidence and not political ideology. Average pension in local government is £4,000, but for women its just £2,800 (£56 a week) and in health its just £7,500, and £3,000 for women. Members of those schemes pay in between 5.5% and 7.5% of their salaries to save for their retirement. If they did not save, they would end up on means-tested benefits at a cost to taxpayers.

Both the local government and the health schemes are cash rich and were renegotiated a few years ago to make them sustainable and affordable – longevity costs would be paid by the employee not the employer. The union argues that making people pay more, work longer for a smaller pension is unnecessary, unjust and unworkable. People will leave the schemes, if they become too expensive, and they will collapse.

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