Unite's NHS Executive Committee is the first major group to send back the "Heads of Agreement" proposals signed by joint union negotiators on 19th December
In what will be seen as a significant set-back for the government, Unite reps in the NHS have voted unanimously to reject the Coalition’s latest proposals on pension reform.
The Heads of Agreement document – which formed the basis of the Treasury’s offer to unions across the NHS – was rejected by Unite’s health sector national industrial committee as a basis for a satisfactory outcome. The union has 100,000 members working in the NHS.
They were among almost 30 unions who took part in the 2 million-strong public sector pensions strike on 30th November (above).
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Our NHS executive unanimously reject the government’s pernicious attempts to make hard working and dedicated NHS staff pay more, work longer and get less when they retire.”
The vote by Unite reps comes ahead of similar meetings over the next six days by a number of unions to decide whether they accept that the draft agreements signed in the hours before the government-imposed deadline on 19th December, form a basis for further, more detailed talks aimed at a final settlement.
So far, unions representing the majority of workers in education and the civil service have refused to agree to the government’s current proposals.
The Unite health executive highlighted three major areas of concern:
- A high proportion of NHS staff will see their pension contributions jump from the current 6.5 per cent to 9.3 per cent by 2014/15, and other staff will see their contributions leap by nearly 50 per cent, with some paying 14.5 per cent of their salary into their pensions.
- The linking of the NHS retirement age to the rising age at which people will receive their state pensions. The state retirement age is set to rise to 66 in 2020 and 67 by 2026, with the prospect of working even longer in future decades. Unite is concerned that, for example, paramedics and nurses could be doing heavy lifting into their late 60s.
- The proposed accrual rate for NHS staff is worse than the planned rates for other public sector schemes. Because this will be based on career average earnings, it will hit women who had taken career breaks to raise their children hardest.
Said Len McCluskey: ‘The government’s attacks on public sector pensions are politically motivated, as part of an overall design to privatise the NHS, cut public services, break-up the national pay agreements, and disrupt legitimate trade union activities and organisation.
“Unite believes it is important to continue a campaign to maintain a fair and equitable system of public sector pensions and calls on ministers to enter into real, genuine and meaningful negotiations on the future of NHS pensions and public sector pensions.”
The Unite HSNIC is due to meet again on 11 January to discuss its next steps. The TUC’s public sector liaison committee – which includes the unions involved in the 30th November strike – meets the following day.
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