Wednesday 22 November 2006

Government in Mess over Local Government Pensions

I attended a briefing meeting today from my own trade union, Unison, just before trade union members from all the local government unions came across to Parliament to lobby MPs on the future of pensions for local government workers. The briefing was to explain to the trade union members how to lobby their MP and what the key issues were they had to get across.

What absolutely perplexes me is how has the Government got itself into this mess. The Government has demanded that public sector pensions must change. Ministers have argued that because people are living longer the public sector pension schemes are no longer afordable and must change. This means basically people retiring later, paying more and receiving less.

Strange, I didn't hear this argument used in the debate around MPs' pensions.

The reality in local government as it is in many parts of the private sector is that employers have at various times opted out of paying their full contribution to maintaining the pension scheme.

Nevertheless the eleven unions, representing about 2 million local government workers, have done everything possible to negotiate a reasonable settlement, which is practical, affordable and maintains the basic benefits of the pension scheme. Their proposals are generally in line with the new scheme the Government agreed with the civil service unions last year.

The unions mobilised a lobby today because of their frustration at the Government's intransigence. Over the next few days the employers'body will be meeting and subsequently Government MInisters will be coming to a view.

I urge MPs and Government Ministers in particular to listen to local government workers and those effected by changes in this pension scheme. They have real and genuine fears for the future which could be overcome by the Government simply agreeing to offering the same pension scheme protections agreed for the civil service.

If this issue is not sorted soon the Government could be faced with industrial action and local government workers and their families marching out to vote against Labour in next year's Scottish, Welsh and local government elections. The anxiety must be the risk that if people have decided to vote against the Labour Party once it will become extremely difficult to regain their confidence and support in the future.