Pensions - Deal or No Deal?

  • 20 December 2011
  • From the section UK Politics
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Praise for the unions which have signed outline agreements. Patience with those who say they need to think some more. Condemnation for those who say that no deal is possible and hint of more industrial action to come.

That will be how Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury and chief pensions negotiator for the government, responds today to the progress made on reforming pension schemes.

He will tell MPs that what's on offer is "a fair deal for public sector workers, an affordable deal for taxpayers and a good deal for the country".

There is as yet no deal. There is the prospect of deals in certain parts of the public sector after a series of separate negotiations with different groups of unions.

All unions have signed an outline agreement in local government. All major unions have signed up in the NHS. Some teaching unions but not the big two - the NUT and NASUWT - have reached agreement.

The smaller civil service unions covering senior officials, managers, scientists and specialists - the FDA and Prospect - have signed an agreement but the quarter of a million strong PCS representing most civil servants has not.

The country's biggest union UNITE has small numbers of public sector workers but appears, at the moment, to be with PCS.

Even those unions who have signed up go so-called "heads of agreement" still have to sell any deal to their executives and members. They are saying - in effect - this is the best we can do with ministers who won't budge any further.

Those who went on strike have protested that they will have to work longer, pay more and get less. So, what has changed?

All public sector workers will still have to work longer. Their pension age will increase in line with the state pension.

Most public sector workers will have to pay more although the government have offered protection for the lowest paid.

Many public sector workers will get less. However, it's here that there have been the most intensive and detailed negotiations - the unions have secured faster accrual rates (the speed at which pensions build up), protection for those within ten years of retirement and a promise to maintain pensions even if workers are transferred to the private sector after privatisation or contracting out.

So, there will be no repeat of the mass strike action seen on 30 November, let alone the general strike called for by protesters outside the TUC last night.

However, the PCS may still ask its members to strike, causing disruption to government offices, job centres and border control. The big teaching unions could still walk away from negotiations and pursue industrial action.

Ministers' aim throughout has been to split union solidarity - today they believe they might just have succeeded.

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