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UNISON general secretary election
A fighting programme to defend pensions
"YOU'VE GOT five months to save your pension." That's how Roger Bannister, who is standing in the general secretary election campaign in public sector union UNISON, described the threat to council workers' pensions.
Roger is on UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) and is branch secretary of the Knowsley branch.
He spoke to the socialist about the government's attacks on pensions and how to fight them:
THE GOVERNMENT have announced their intention to make changes from April next year. They will be doing things like abolishing the 85-year rule, which says that if your years in the pension scheme and your age add up to 85 or more, you can retire, at the discretion of the employer.
At the moment the scheme says if redundancies are declared, you can go aged 50 with access to your pension. That's been put up to 55. And at the moment you can go aged 60, with access to your pension. That's been put up to 65.
They're also consulting on another range of changes for the future, like increasing the cost of employees' contributions. So we know that if they get away with this lot it won't stop there, they will come back for more.
Similar changes are being pushed in the NHS and in the teachers' and civil service schemes. But the local government one has been brought forward - they're supposed to be bringing in these changes from April next year. It's a year later for the other schemes.
The unions have done all the lobbying and our members have written to their MPs. The TUC called its lobby of parliament and rally last week. And there's been detailed submissions from the trade unions to the government.
Even some of the employers are opposed to the changes. Knowsley council, for example, have put in a submission which largely agrees with UNISON's position.
They think the pension scheme is a big incentive for recruitment and retention. In councils like Knowsley, people don't exactly queue up to work here, because of the nature of the problems in the place.
All this has been well-organised and efficiently done but it hasn't worked. So we have to think of other methods of fighting now.
At UNISON's local government service group conference in June, I moved a resolution on behalf of the branch. It said if the government press ahead unilaterally with their changes, we should ballot the members to take industrial action. That was accepted by the conference. We need to be raising that issue now with our members.
I was impressed that at the TUC rally last week, Mark Serwotka raised the question of a strike across the public sector over pensions, this side of the general election. That would fit with UNISON's policy and it would make for very strong, determined action.
Last week, UNISON's policy committee met and we had a report back from the pensions lobby. I raised the issue of Serwotka's call and said that we need to examine that seriously now.
There will be meetings of the relevant bodies over the next few weeks where I hope UNISON will consider and act on that call.
Service conditions issues in UNISON are correctly dealt with by the different service groups, like local government, health etc and not by the NEC.
But I do think the service conditions groups should make plans on the basis of industrial action to defend pensions across the public sector.
In The Socialist 4 December 2004:
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