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From The Socialist newspaper, 5 March 2005

UNISON leaders vote not to ballot on NHS pensions

UNISON's Health Service Group Executive (SGE) have voted against running a consultative ballot on pensions amongst its health service members.

In spite of it being clear that the pensions age will be raised to 65, the executive voted by 22-3, with one abstention, not to ballot. The argument was that there was no mood for action amongst the members!

Adrian O'Malley, branch chair of UNISON's Wakefield and Pontefract hospitals branch spoke to the socialist about this decision.

"NHS workers are talking about pensions, especially now that local government workers are getting publicity about going for strike action. We're getting people phoning the office saying: "What's happening, when are we getting a vote?"

People knew there was a review going on but now they've seen others taking action and they know we've got a non-negotiable increase in retirement age, they can't understand why there is a delay in NHS workers balloting.

We're getting the same attacks as other public sector workers. Once people find out about what the SGE have done they won't be able to make any sense of it at all. They'll just think that the SGE have completely bottled it.

No confidence

We should be firing resolutions off saying we've got no confidence in the SGE and demanding that it be reconvened so we can join in the campaign and start a ballot of health service members.

Our branch already has a policy for joint action on pensions by all public-sector workers. We've got our AGM on 3 March where we'll be putting another resolution to the regional service group and sending it to head office.

The SGE are saying the members' awareness is not enough to win a strike ballot but their consciousness will be raised now with what's going on. It will be even more with a proper campaign explaining the issues.

UNISON's health conference is in April and there are 8-10 resolutions for action on pensions, so the SGE knows the mood.

There was a unanimous vote at last year's conference that if they tried to increase the retirement age there would be industrial action. These people are refusing to act on union policy. It was also national conference policy that we have cross-sector industrial action. So the SGE are sitting on their hands when they've already got conference backing. They should resign.

The UNISON website shows the MPs signing an Early Day Motion in protest at the changes in the local government pensions scheme. But what happens when these MPs think their careers are on the line? It will be interesting to see how many UNISON-sponsored MPs vote against UNISON policy."

The NHS pension scheme is the largest in the public sector, with at least two million members. The government have already announced they will increase the retirement age to 65 by 2013.

This has shocked the majority of NHS staff, most of whom do stressful jobs which take their toll. Already 73% of paramedics are forced to retire because of ill health before they reach 60. Therefore the thought of having to work until 65 has been met with anger.

Read The Great Pensions Robbery for an analysis of the attacks on pensions and a guide to action to defend against them.

Socialist Party national trade union meeting.

Saturday 12 March, 11am-5pm.

The public-sector pension crisis.

All Socialist Party members in trade unions are invited. Ring 020 8988 8742 or 020 8988 8778 for more details.

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In The Socialist 5 March 2005:

United action to defend pensions

UNISON leaders vote not to ballot on NHS pensions

Let's have a decent minimum wage!

New Labour - guilty of destroying democratic rights

Can the Tories really win?

Socialist Party election campaign launched

Socialist Party national council report

Troops out of Iraq

Can George Bush's second-term offensive be defeated?

Protests force government resignation in Lebanon

Tsunami relief - the failure of capitalism

International Women's Day: Fighting the system that exploits us

United student campaign attacked in Israel

Northern Ireland: Horrific murder enrages local community


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