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Year 2005 No. 4, January 13, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Millions to protest in TUC day of campaigning action on pensions:

Public Sector Pensions – Public Service Unions Set Pensions Campaign Date

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Public Sector Pensions – Public Service Unions Set Pensions Campaign Date

Amicus on Public Service Pensions Action

Fire Brigades Union Launches Pension Strategy

Protecting NHS Workers – GMB Reaction to NHS Pension Scheme Review Proposals

Public and Commercial Services Union on the TUC Day of Campaigning Action

UNISON Slams NHS Pensions Proposals

Brendan Barber New Year Message

Leaked letter reveals Labour plea to unions:
Party Leadership Fears "Damaging Headlines" in Run-Up to General Election if Public Sector Workers Strike over Pensions

Poverty and Homelessness Rise under Labour

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Millions to protest in TUC day of campaigning action on pensions:

Public Sector Pensions – Public Service Unions Set Pensions Campaign Date

At a meeting on January 11 of the TUC’s Public Service Liaison Group (PSLG), Friday, February 18, was chosen as a nationwide day of campaigning for union members to voice their concerns at the detrimental changes the government is planning to make to the pensions of all public sector workers.

Although the changes to the various pensions schemes vary from sector to sector, the unions are united in their desire to preserve decent pensions for workers across the public services, the TUC said. Of particular concern is the government’s determination to increase the retirement age for all public sector workers.

When the PSLG last met before Christmas, the unions were keen for an urgent meeting to take place with senior government ministers. The TUC is to keep up the pressure on ministers for this high level meeting to occur as soon as possible.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "This issue is not going to go away. Unions and their members are very angry at the changes the Government is proposing. There is enormous concern at the impact these proposals will have upon the lives of millions of public sector workers. We are determined to keep up the pressure on the Government."

The aim of the day of campaigning action at local / regional levels, with support from regional TUC offices, is:

  1. To make the case in local and regional media
  2. To bring pressure and local MPs in their constituencies and / or surgeries
  3. To give a focus for local events such as lunchtime briefings for members on the threats to their pension.
  4. To maximise cross-union cooperation in local campaign events either at lunchtime or after work.
  5. To provide maximum scope for affiliates to campaign in ways appropriate to their members.
  6. To coincide with the day of action, the TUC will be seeking a meeting with the Cabinet Office Minister (David Miliband) with responsibility for the Public Services Forum.

The day of action will involve millions of health, council and other public sector workers. Rallies, protest meetings, lobbying of MPs and other events will be held across Britain.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said that the government needed the goodwill of public service workers, adding: "The proposed changes to the public sector scheme retirement ages are already causing widespread anger and resentment among the public sector workforce. This would be especially harmful for Labour in the run-up to the probable general election."

Article Index

Amicus on Public Service Pensions Action

Amicus has said it will support the day of action in February against plans to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65.

Amicus' National Officer for Health, Gail Cartmail, said:

"Our members will fight to defend voluntary retirement at 60 and the NHS final salary pension scheme. Amicus will oppose the proposal to replace the NHS final salary scheme with a career average one which will disadvantage the vast majority of our members.

"We believe that these proposed changes will have the opposite effect to the one the government wants and will actually damage recruitment and retention prospects in the NHS. More people will be encouraged to join and stay in the NHS if they have a good final salary scheme which allows them to retire if they so choose."

Following the meeting of public sector unions on January 11 to discuss opposition to government proposed changes to public sector pensions, health spokesperson Gail Cartmail said:

"Amicus' members working across the public sector are united in their opposition to the proposals to replace their final salary scheme with a average earning one and to raise the retirement age from 60 to 65."

"Amicus has agreed to support the TUC day of action planned for Friday 18th February and we will be encouraging our members and their families to participate in lobbying their local MPs. As it's half term we hope that this is something that public sector workers can involve their children in, demonstrating that detrimental changes will affect whole families and the future recruitment prospects of the NHS."

Amicus has also said that if the proposals to replace the final salary scheme and raise the retirement age survive the consultation process they will give their members the opportunity to vote for strike action.

Amicus has more than 80,000 members in the NHS and a total of over 100,000 public sector members employed in the NHS, local authorities, the MoD, prisons and in colleges and universities.

Article Index

Fire Brigades Union Launches Pension Strategy

The FBU Executive Council (EC) and the newly formed National Pensions Strategy Group has launched the FBU strategy to challenge the government proposed changes to the Firemen’s Pension Scheme and the Local Government Pension Scheme.

Members will receive at their home addresses from next week details of the union’s proposed strategy. In the same mailing, members will receive a detailed "technical" analysis that the FBU has submitted to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. FBU members are being urged to read these documents and attend their branch meetings to let their views be heard about the future of their pensions and how the FBU should take the campaign forward – including what action needs to be taken. In launching the FBU’s pensions strategy, the EC stressed the importance of working together with the wider trade union movement in Britain, which is uniting in a broad campaign to tackle the issue of pensions affecting all working people. This included joining in a national day of action on public service pensions on Friday 18 February.

Article Index

Protecting NHS Workers – GMB Reaction to NHS Pension Scheme Review Proposals

The GMB – Britain’s General Union – has voiced concerns following the release of proposals from NHS employers for the NHS Pensions Scheme.The document has been jointly endorsed by both management, and staff side representatives.  It proposes a new scheme for employees joining the NHS from 2006 and various amendments for existing staff, which may come into force from 2013.

The new scheme could have a normal pension age of 65 and there is also the potential to introduce a career average (CARE) scheme.  A comparison between a final salary pension and CARE is a significant part of the consultation document and background papers.  The joint Trade Unions have yet to be convinced of the benefits of CARE for staff owing to the introduction of Agenda for Change, which may increase pay substantially.

Existing members potentially will not be affected by any changes until 2013.  From this date these employees will have their service treated in two parts.  Service earned before the date will be based on a normal pension age of 60, whereas service accumulated after this date could have a pension age of 65.

Sharon Holder, GMB National Officer for Health, said

"GMB welcomes a consultation document that has been produced in partnership between the NHS Employers and the joint NHS Unions.  However, there is still much to be agreed between the two sides.  GMB will not endorse any moves that reduce the pension benefits of our members.  GMB members particularly value the continued opportunity to leave employment at 60 and, in some cases, it is a physical necessity for people in demanding roles.  We will continue to resist Government policy regarding an increase in the pension age, and work with other Trade Unions across the public sector to protect our members' interests."

Article Index

Public and Commercial Services Union on the TUC Day of Campaigning Action

Janice Godrich and Mark Serwotka, President and General Secretary of the PCS respectively, write that with a General Election coming up, the government and MPs are at their most susceptible to pressure.  This is the time when the trade union movement should be demanding that the government drop its plans to compulsory raise the pension age to 65.  We believe that civil and public sector workers want to see a united and bold response to the government’s plans.  For us, it is common sense.

PCS is discussing with key public sector trade unions representing local government workers, teachers, lecturers and fire fighters, the possibility of a one day public sector protest strike in March against the governments pensions plans.  If there is a will amongst public sector unions, we are sure everyone would want to coordinate a ballot of their members in defence of pensions.

In the meantime, the campaigning action on the 18 February will be an excellent opportunity to get our message across on pensions and to build support for further action with other unions.

Whilst we await details of what the TUC and Regional TUCs have in mind, we have advised all PCS Regional Offices and senior lay officials that we need to mobilise for the 18 February.  Regional Committees will need to draw up action plans.

Branch Committees should meet to discuss possible local events etc.  Our Campaigns, Organising and Pensions officials, have begun preparing packs to go to Regions and Branches containing material for use in the build-up to and on the 18th.

We are asking Regional and Branch Officials to meet with their other union counterparts in regions, towns, cities, to discuss and coordinate action including rallies, marches, public and media work, contacting MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates.

This activity is part of our campaign on jobs, pay, pensions and public services.

They conclude that the defence of members' pensions is one of our key objectives for 2005.

Article Index

UNISON Slams NHS Pensions Proposals

Unison writes on January 10 that Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, has slammed proposals to change the NHS pension scheme and raise the pension age to 65 saying the union would fight them all the way.

The proposals were tabled by an NHS employers today. In addition to increasing the pension age, they suggest basing workers' pensions on average pay over the course of their career rather than final salary.

Dave Prentis said it was no wonder trust is at rock bottom, with MPs retiring at the next election with a five-star pension package while plotting to make NHS staff work longer for less pension.

"To suggest that NHS workers should be forced to work until they are 65 is living in cloud cuckoo land. 73% of paramedics are forced to retire through ill-health before they reach the age of 60, let alone carry on until they are 65. Forcing staff to work longer will simply raise the level of ill-health retirements and end up costing the NHS more," he said.

Prentis pointed out the possible risk to patients with people whose capability is compromised by age-related problems but are not eligible for ill-health retirement. He said staff may continue to work in vital occupations in order to avoid reducing their pension benefits.

"Working for the NHS is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. It is a highly stressful environment because of the rapid changes in technology, the rapid turnover of patients and constant reforms and changes.

Prentis added that, just as the NHS is introducing better training and career opportunities to help staff move up through the ranks, it is taking away "a very good incentive to take on additional responsibilities and try to improve your career chances."

Under the proposals, new employees joining from 2006 would be asked to work up to the age of 65, while existing employees who have not hit 60 by 2013 will be required to work until 65 before retiring.

The proposals come from a review requested by the Department of Health and there will be a three-month consultation on them starting today (January 10).

Article Index

Brendan Barber New Year Message

TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, on December 27, 2004, issued the following New Year message to Britain’s trade union members:

"The coming year is likely to be dominated by a general election. It is the job of unions to put work related issues high on the election agenda. Our challenge to the political parties is to have an agenda for the workplace.

"Top of the list of work related issues must be pensions. Crisis is not too strong a word to describe our pensions problems. Almost every group in the workforce has been hit with, or is now threatened by, pensions cuts.

"Those who thought they had secure occupational pensions, have been hit by stock market turmoil and the cumulative effect of long contributions holidays when investments were performing well. Some have even lost all their savings as their employers went bust. We welcome government moves to compensate those who have lost out, but we need to be vigilant in 2005 to make sure sufficient funds are made available.

"Many now work for companies who have abandoned good salary related schemes for new employees in favour of money purchase schemes with drastically reduced employer contributions.

"Long established big companies still tend to provide occupational pensions, but fewer people now work for them. Smaller newer companies are much less likely to do so. Even the big companies have contracted out many jobs, so that people doing jobs that would have had a pension attached a generation ago don’t now get one.

"Public sector workers, many of them low paid, now face big cuts in their pension. This is the same as cutting pay and conditions for a group who have often been paid less than equivalent workers elsewhere because of their pension arrangements. The public sector will not attract or keep good staff if pensions are cut. Public servants are understandably angry.

"And of course a large proportion of the workforce have never had a pension, and are forced to rely on their own devices. We know that many are not saving for a pension who should be. But with so much means testing now built into the pensions system, it is very hard for many people to work out whether it is worth their while saving.

"A general election campaign will not solve the pensions crisis, particularly while we wait for the Turner Commission report. But it is right to ask politicians whether they are prepared to take the hard decisions that will be needed, or simply expect people to work until they drop or retire in poverty. We need compulsory saving with employers and employees making fair contributions. We need a guaranteed state retirement pension, reformed to make it fairer for women, and set high enough so that everyone can confidently save knowing it will boost their pension, not be eaten up by means testing.

"The second major issue on which we should challenge politicians is the relationship between work and the rest of our lives. We work the longest hours in Europe, yet are far from the most productive. But we do look to be making progress on childcare and help for new parents. The government’s genuinely radical programme to help parents adds up to a significant extension of the welfare state. Other parties also recognise that some response is needed.

"But we cannot extend childcare without making childcare a far more attractive career. Parents need to know that highly trained and qualified staff are caring for their children, and we won’t attract the workforce we need without proper rewards and opportunities for development and career progression.

"Just as the childcare workforce needs to be better trained, so do the rest of the workforce. Standards in schools have got better in recent years, but we know that one in four of the workforce have problems with either reading or numeracy and that employers are reporting skill shortages. We need a successful and productive economy to deliver the living standards and public services we expect. We will not be able to do this without a big extension of skills and training. Union members are more likely to be trained than non-members. It’s time to spread the learning culture we have built in union Britain to non-union Britain.

"Our final challenge to the political parties will be whether they will safeguard and extend public services. A worrying theme in the last year has been a growing tendency among all the parties to undervalue and undermine public service. No-one of course will ever attack the nurses, but the people who make sure they get paid, order and wash their uniforms, organise their training, buy the medical supplies they need, book in patient’s appointments all seem to be fair game as "faceless bureaucrats".

"We are making up for the chronic lack of investment in our public services. There is clear improvement in health, education and many other services that users can see. But the investment must continue, and any government must nurture and extend the public service ethos that motivates both front line and support staff in the public sector."

Article Index

Leaked letter reveals Labour plea to unions:

Party Leadership Fears "Damaging Headlines" in Run-Up to General Election if Public Sector Workers Strike over Pensions

Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent, January 12, 2005, The Guardian

The Labour leadership has written privately to the trade unions urging them not to take any strike action before the general election as part of a renewed offer of union-friendly reforms, a private letter leaked to the Guardian shows . The call for restraint in "the next few crucial months" comes in a letter from the party chairman, Ian McCartney, to the organisation bringing together Labour affiliated unions, the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (Tulo). It is the clearest sign yet that the leadership expects the election soon.

The letter underlines government fears that strikes over pension cuts, especially in the public sector, could provoke a spate of damaging headlines. The public sector union, Unison, is holding ballots in connection with claims that the deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, is cutting pension entitlements. Similar strikes are possible in the NHS after proposed changes published this week.

Mr McCartney's letter, dated December 20, to Tony Dubbins, Tulo co-chairman, warns: "I should like to bring your attention to a number of headlines that emerged last week on the issue of threatened industrial action over pension reform in the public sector.

"I know you will agree with me that these issues are much better addressed through dialogue rather than confrontation, and I hope we can encourage an improved spirit of partnership over the crucial next few months."

He adds: "I know the strength of commitment that exists to delivering the third term among union colleagues – I look forward to making that a reality over the coming months."

Mr McCartney's letter is designed to reassure sceptical unions that an agreement reached at a party policy forum in Warwick in the summer will be fully implemented and reflected in the manifesto.

The Conservatives claimed last night that it revealed that a weakened Tony Blair was no longer able to keep his commitment that he would offer the unions only fairness not favours.

Unison fears the Warwick agreement will be watered down into a set of vague aspirations. The unions are especially worried that reforms designed to ensure rights for workers will be undermined by more private sector contractors in the public sector.

Mr McCartney seeks to reassure the unions that the government is sticking by the Warwick agreement, pointing out that the right for a workforce not to be sacked for industrial action has been extended from eight to 12 weeks. He says the women at work commission on equal pay has started meeting regularly with significant union representation. He adds that he has already implemented a promise that 50% of pension scheme trustees are membership-nominated. He also asserts that the chancellor's pre-budget report in the field of childcare and parental leave has gone beyond the agreed words in Warwick, as has the Department for Education with £1m more capital funding to back union learning projects.

In one of the most contentious areas of public sector reform, Mr McCartney insists that it is now agreed government policy to end the system in which workers employed by the private sector are paid less than those in the public sector.

He concludes: "Warwick will be implemented – but only if Labour wins the historic third term we all cherish."

The TUC's Public Service Liaison Group yesterday agreed on February 18 as a nationwide day of campaigning for union members to voice concerns over pension rights.

Article Index

Poverty and Homelessness Rise under Labour

By Niall Green, 24 December 2004, World Socialist Web Site www.wsws.org

Recent major studies of social conditions facing workers and young people in Britain have provided further evidence of the anti-social effect of the policies demanded by big business and pursued by the Labour government. A picture emerges of a downward curve in real pay for millions of workers that has lasted for over a generation, combined with increases in living costs—especially housing—that is both deepening and widening the scope of poverty in Britain.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has issued a report on poverty levels in the Britain (available at www.jrf.org.uk). The report, titled Strategies Against Poverty—A Shared Roadmap, was issued to mark the organisation’s centenary and is intended to offer advice to the government and anti-poverty charities. JRF has long established friendly relations with Labour; however, the report’s findings contain enough statistical evidence to provide a damning indictment of the government.

* Nearly 30 percent of children in Britain are living in poverty, with one-third coming from families where at least one parent is in work.

* Particularly vulnerable to poverty are families of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin. Three-quarters of families from these national backgrounds live on or below the official poverty level, i.e., they receive less than 60 percent of median income after the deduction of housing costs.

* Around a fifth of pensioners fell into the official poverty category, rising to 25 percent of those aged over 75.

* In the early 1980s one in seven adults in the course of a year could not afford to purchase at least three items thought of as essential by most people; today that figure has increased to one in four.

* Since 1980 the poorest quintile of the population has experienced no growth in real earnings. Nearly twice as many people have relatively low incomes as 25 years ago.

* The report points out that "millions are unable to afford basic necessities such as proper clothing and nutrition". Tens of thousands of the poorest households have seen an absolute decline in their earnings since 1997 and the poorest 10 percent of the population have experience average income increases incapable of meeting the rising cost of living.

JRF acknowledges a slight reduction over the past five years in the overall proportion of children living in poverty. This small change—challenged by other charities that claim that the government’s measure of poverty is an inadequate indicator of the true level of deprivation in society—is largely attributable to the introduction of highly targeted means-tested benefits by the government. Since its election in 1997 Labour’s welfare policy has been aimed at pushing benefit claimants into whatever low-wage jobs are available. A necessary part of this drive has been to devalue social security benefits while "rewarding work" through the tax system, i.e., to offer tax credits to low paid workers, effectively subsidising poverty wages.

This low wage spiral was highlighted in earlier JRF studies of low incomes. A report published in November conducted by Professor Jane Millar and Karen Gardiner of the University of Bath found that nearly a quarter of employees surveyed could be classified as "low paid"—receiving wages below two-thirds of the median wage, not counting benefits. This figure has changed little from before the introduction of the minimum wage in 1999. Of those who are low paid, an increased number are classed as poor compared to the mid-1990s.

Their report stated: "Despite the minimum wage we remain a low pay culture in which a large proportion of workers have to get help from other members of their households and from the state to avoid poverty. This contrasts with the situation in the past. In the 1970s, only about a quarter as many low-paid workers were in poverty as today, even without the help of tax credits. Then, low pay was mainly restricted to people who were not the main earners in the family, but today it is more prevalent among breadwinners."

Another report issued January 2004 by JRF and the Institute of Fiscal Studies showed how this low-wage economy had necessitated a massive government subsidy. It found that "State financial support for families with children has more than doubled in real terms since the mid-1970s to reach £22 billion a year—with the most dramatic increases taking place in the past four years".

The government’s Working Families Tax Credit largely accounts for the big rise in the total level spent on payments to families. This and other meagre "workfare" offerings can only be understood in the context of the drive by business to lower wages. Labour’s policy has been to facilitate this, where necessary, by topping up the pay packets of workers with kids by just enough to make a job less financially dire than living on social security.

Such state financing of chronically low pay cannot last at the current level. With the number of low paid jobs increasing at the expense of better-paid, more secure jobs the government faces an ever-increasing demand on its tax credit scheme. In the context of massive cuts in corporation and profit taxes, the huge growth in state subsidies to low paid families will come under greater strain and must eventually be abandoned or substantially cut. Its only long-term effect will have been to ease the way towards ever-lower wage rates.

Furthermore, the Working Families Tax Credit can only ameliorate poverty for its recipients so long as they have jobs. Any rise in unemployment would leave families just keeping their heads above water reliant on a social security system that has been cut back and diverted towards "workfare".

For those families and individuals out of work, and poorer employees without children, the government’s targeted welfare policies have done nothing. The proportion of childless adults living on low incomes, of which a significant percentage are in work, has increased since Labour took office in 1997.

The JRF centenary report also warns that a housing crisis is accentuating the effects of poverty: "Many people in Britain today are disadvantaged by limitations of their physical infrastructure—for example by inadequate transport links or lack of communal facilities; but most of all by inadequacies in the supply, quality and affordability of housing."

This inadequacy was starkly shown by a report issued by a government department.

As with wage earnings, so with housing the drive of capital to increase profits has created increasingly acute social problems. The privatisation of publicly owned housing has created a housing crisis, with average house prices now £173,756, over eight times median wages in Britain.

Statistics on homelessness from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (who has responsibility for housing) revealed that the number of homeless families in Britain has reached 100,000. This record level of homelessness is more than double the total when Labour took office and the government estimates that this number will continue to rise until at least 2008.

Crisis, the homelessness charity, claimed this figure could represent up to 500,000 people living in temporary accommodation. Another organisation for the homeless, Shelter, put the figure at 230,000.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott contemptuously brushed aside the problem, telling Radio 4’s "Today" programme that 84 percent of those classed as homeless were living in "reasonable accommodation". He suggested that a new £150 million aid package for the homeless would help to address the problem, suggesting that in future the government would change the definition of homelessness in order to avoid such embarrassing findings: "I have asked local authorities to speed up the process to make sure they [the homeless] are in settled accommodation, instead of being defined as homeless."

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