Wednesday, 20 June 2012

UNISON Local Government Conference June 2012 - Pensions and Pay

This year's UNISON Local Government Conference took place in Bournemouth on 17th and 18th June. Many motions were debated but I'm going to mention some long and interesting debates on pensions and pay.


On Sunday afternoon there was a very long debate on the latest deal on the Local Government Pension Scheme. A number of emergency motions asked conference to agree a recommendation to members to reject the deal and to change the timetable for balloting members, which is currently set for the first 3 weeks of August, when many members will be on holiday. The vote on these emergency motions looked pretty even to me, and many delegates requested a card vote, whereby each branches total voting power (that is numbers of members) is taken into account. The card vote was denied by the Chair. The only emergency motion which was passed by conference was a motion requesting branches consult with members over the next few weeks to get their view on the new pensions proposals, and this will enable UNISON to decide what recommendation it will give to members on the ballot papers. North Somerset UNISON will be holding members meetings on the pensions deal (along with the Integrated Care Organisation) at the following times and locations - make sure you attend:

26th June at 12.30 Castlewood room 2.07

28th June at 12.30 at Badger House FF room 2

3rd July at 12.30 at the Town Hall New Council Chamber

11th July at 12.30 at Weston Hospital – Academy, Syndicate C

25th July at 1.15 pm at Castlewood, G9/10

31st July at 12.30 at Badger House FF room2

7th August at 12.30 at the Town Hall New Council Chamber

14th August at 12.30 at Weston Hospital – Academy, Waverley room

21st August at 12.30 at Castlewood Rooms G8/G9/G10

If you can't get to a meeting there's a very brief survey which you can complete by following this link:

The ballot will begin on 31st July and end on 24th August. Here's my assessment of the deal but members should look at the full details which can be found at: 

Will we pay more? YES and NO - there will be no increased contributions for those earning less than £43,000 a year, but those earning more than £43,000 will have contribution increases. In addition because of the new link between our retirement age and the state pension age, which is increasing to 68, then all members will pay more, because they'll be paying into their pension scheme for more years.

Will we have to work longer? YES – the government is still linking the Local Government retirement age to the state retirement age, which is gradually increasing to 68 and may go up even further.

Will we get less? YES because the government have already changed the way they calculate yearly pension increases from the RPI rate of inflation to the CPI rate of inflation, wiping off approximately 15% of the value of your pension. In addition the new scheme will be a Career Average (CARE) scheme and not a Final Salary scheme - the government wont' budge on this. There are a variety of views on whether or not CARE schemes are as good as final salary schemes. Members should look at the information published on UNISON's website at the address above, and also consider whether the method by which each year of your earnings will be revalued in a CARE scheme (according to the rate of CPI, rather than average earnings increases) will deliver equivalent benefits to a final salary scheme, or in other words members need to assess whether or not they think their union will be able to negotiate decent yearly pay increases for its members over the period of time in which you are paying into your pension.

The good news is that those members within 10 years of retirement from April 2012 will be protected. All staff TUPE transferred from local government to private and voluntary sector providers will get to take their pension with them, and the trade unions have negotiated a new 50-50 option where members can decide to pay 50% of their contributions in return for 50% of their pension - this is designed to prevent opt outs from the scheme.

Although we achieved much through taking industrial action on 30th November, I personally think that we did not achieve enough when assessed against what we campaigned against – “pay more, work longer, get less”. But the only way we can achieve all these aims is if all our members are prepared to take sustained industrial action. In North Somerset under half of our membership took industrial action for one day in November, so it seems unlikely that members will be prepared to take further sustained action. But members may prove me wrong. I also think we need to remember that we have many reasons to take action - not just pensions, but the pay freeze, pay cap, localised pay, and cuts to terms and conditions, jobs and services. But if UNISON members do not want to take further industrial action, then they will need to accept what’s on offer, and live with it. It’s your decision. Make sure you attend a meeting to find out more and make sure you vote in the ballot in August.


Ken Mulkearn from Income Data Services (IDS) gave a presentation on Local Government Pay, and the government's proposals for regonalised pay. He outlined how Local Government workers are the poor relations in the public sector. Here's a few shocking, or maybe not so shocking facts:

In 2000 the lowest rate of local government pay was 25% higher than the national minimum wage. In 2012 with the national minimum wage due to rise to £6.19 per hour in October, the lowest rate of local government pay is currently £6.30 an hour - only 11 pence or 2% higher than the national minimum wage. If there are no increases this year then by 2013 we could see the lowest rate of local government pay being under the minimum wage, and therefore illegal.

Local government workers are now in year 3 of the pay freeze. Because of the rate of inflation over the past 3 years, this is estimated to equate to a 13% pay cut. Many councils, including North Somerset Council have refused to pay the £250 yearly pay increase for those earning under £21,000 promised by George Osborne. Low paid workers at North Somerset Council are currently under threat of having their enhancements reduced.

Low pay in Local government is an equalities issue because 77% of all local government employees are women. In addition 55% of the total local government workforce work part time, and 90% of these part-time workers are women.

Local government pay is now worth 10% less than it was in 1997 once inflation is taken into account.

Earlier this year UNISON published a report on Local Government Pay entitled "Living on the Edge" - here's the link:

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