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PCS stands firm on pensions
THE GOVERNMENT'S attack on public-sector workers' pension rights has been going on for some time.
The attack was halted in 2005 when a united front of most of the public-sector workers' unions, led by the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), forced New Labour into its first major 'U' turn.
The government had said they intended to make all public-sector workers work until they were 65 before they could draw their full occupational pension rights. But under threat of a national public-sector strike the government retreated.
They were forced under the public-sector forum agreement (PSF) to concede that existing public-sector workers would be protected and allowed to keep their right to retire at 60 and draw their full pension.
This deal covered teachers, health workers, lecturers, civil servants and others. Local government workers were kept separate by their union leaders, much to their cost, (see article by Glenn Kelly).
As part of the PSF, negotiations were undertaken sector by sector to deal with future generations of public-sector workers. The unions accepted that this new generation would have to work until 65 before they could draw their pensions.
It was possible at the time, that if the other unions had followed the PCS lead and maintained a united front, that even this concession could have been resisted but that was not to be.
Most of the unions involved were prepared to accept worsening conditions for the existing workers' pensions, never mind the future generations. It was only because the PCS stood firm that the PSF agreement was won.
Since then, the various unions in the public sector representing teachers, health workers, civil servants and others have conducted separate negotiations for the new generation of workers. Teachers, health workers and lecturers and others have agreed new arrangements and unfortunately they all seem to have accepted that future pensions for new starters will be subject to "sustainability".
What this means is that if the actuaries declare in the future that there are not enough funds to sustain the pensions payments, then workers will have to pay in more money into the schemes.
The unions other than the PCS seem to have accepted that the employers' level of contributions will be capped and therefore the workers in those schemes will end up paying more.
The only group to have stood out against this has been the civil servants. They have made it plain that any attempt by the government to increase employee contributions will be subject to negotiations and not increased automatically as in other schemes.
The new civil service agreement does not make any concessions at the expense of the existing staff.
The new scheme is still being finalised as we go to press and the whole package will be put to a ballot of the membership.
Future issues will carry the full details but much more could have been won if the all the other unions had stuck with the PCS and fought back in a united struggle.
In The Socialist 18 January 2007:
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