Wednesday 2 November 2011

PENSIONS TALKS: Opponent wavers - now's the time to push ahead with action!

The full details of the supposed 'pensions offer' to unions are still to become clear but the conclusion that we have to drive home is that our campaigning and the threat of Nov 30 IS having an effect!

The Government is being forced to offer some concessions. With our opponent wavering, now we have to drive ahead with the biggest and strongest action on November 30 - and certainly not take a step back.

However, the concession that they've made so far appears to be minimal. From what the press have said:
* It's still 'pay more' - so still a massive pay cut while we suffer a pay freeze and inflation rockets.
* It's still 'get less' - with career averages and CPI. Even with slight changes to accrual rates (* see update below), Cameron's claim in Parliament just now, that a teacher will get more when they retire than they would under the existing scheme, just doesn't add up. Mind, of course, after eight years extra contributions, you'd hope to get paid some more when you eventually retire! (but if you can't make it until you're 67 or 68 it will count as 'early' retirement and you'll get far less - it's roughly a 5% actuarial clawback  for each year below your new pension age.)
* It's still 'retire older' - unless - and this seems the only concession, you're over 50 or so, in which case, it seems you'd still be allowed to take your pension without reduction at 60. However, this is the cheapest possible concession, because the pension workers had already 'banked' before any new pension changes come in was always going to be protected - so this will only be a few years extra protection for workers already close to retirement.

It also seems to be the same old lies about 'unaffordable' pensions, without any proper valuation to back up their assertions. It's the same old propaganda that we should accept cuts and just be grateful that we're not as badly off as private sector colleagues who have had their pensions stolen off them already.

Brendan Barber wouldn't be drawn on the TV as to whether unions felt these were 'significant' concessions - because they aren't - and we should make it very clear that they're not. Let's hope all unions see it the same way ( ** see UPDATE 2 below). 

Cameron and Alexander may have done us a favour. For now, when members have asked their reps 'but what's the point in striking, this Government never retreats', there's been little concrete movement to point to. Now there is. But they'll need to retreat a lot further than this for us to end our campaign of discontinuous action!

* UPDATE: Danny Alexander has told MPs that the 'offer' includes accrual rates of 1/60 - but that's exactly the same rate as already applies in the existing scheme for new entrants - so that's no real improvement. For older teachers who are presently on a worse accrual rate of 1/80 but who also get a lump-sum on retirement as well, the 1/60 'offer' - as it comes with no lump-sum - looks to be a be a worsening of their pension, not an improvement at all.

Danny Alexander has also said that the 'offer' includes a higher 'cost-ceiling' - i.e. a greater overall budget for the scheme (to pay for the ten-year protection largely). However, their original cost-ceiling was set so low that they were actually hoping to cut the employers' contribution towards pensions. 

This slight concession might only mean that the employers will still pay in their existing 14.1% of salary costs after all - although they might still be making a small saving at our expense. Of course, teachers will have to pay around 10% - compared to 6.4% now. For me (and many other colleagues!) that's a £150 a month pay cut!

If this is the case, of course, the Treasury has made no real concession - it's still getting away with cutting the cost to the Government of public sector pensions while we pay more to get less.

** UPDATE 2: I'm pleased to read that TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber has just reported that the planned strike action on November 30 is still going ahead as things stand:
"All of our unions acknowledge that they've made a material move in their position. But we're a long way from a position where we've got offers on the table that might prove acceptable" 
See statement on the TUC website:

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