Public sector pension negotiations offer hope of averting fresh strikes

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS
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HOPES of averting a fresh round of public sector strikes were raised last night after an initial agreement on health workers’ pensions was reached following a day of negotiations.

Unison said it would put the UK government’s “final offer” to members of its executive in January, with the hope that other unions may also be close to clinching deals for their members.

However, the UK’s largest civil service union said it would continue to oppose attempts to make its members “pay more and work longer for less”, with its leader threatening the possibility of further strike action in the New Year.

The Public and Commercial Services union raised the prospect of a repeat of the strike of 30 November, which saw around two million workers walk out in protest over the pension reforms.

Last night, a Cabinet Office source said the PCS would not be invited to any further discussions to agree final details of the civil service pension reforms, sparking union complaints that the government was “bullying” its staff.

The possibility of an agreement for NHS staff led to optimism that unions representing other public sector staff may also accept deals.

While pensions are a matter for Westminster, the Scottish Government has voiced its opposition to the reforms. However, ministers at Holyrood risk losing out on £100m from the UK Government if pension contributions are not increased.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said none of the anger among public sector workers had dissipated since a national strike in November.

He said: “Nothing has changed since two million public sector workers were on strike on November 30 and we continue to oppose the government’s attempt to force public servants to pay more and work longer for less.

“It is uncontested that all the public sector pension schemes are affordable now and in the future. Public servants should not be forced to pay off a budget deficit caused by the greed and recklessness of bankers and exacerbated by the Tory-led government’s economic incompetence.”

Arriving last night at the TUC headquarters in London to discuss the outcome of the negotiations, Mr Serwotka said further industrial action could be held in the New Year, sparking applause from activists lobbying outside.

But Prospect, the second largest civil service union, said it was giving a green light to further negotiations, adding that it was ruling out further industrial action while the negotiations on a new scheme are under way.

Meanwhile, Unison confirmed it has received a final offer on NHS pensions, and agreed to take it back to its health service executive, raising hopes of a breakthrough.

The union will take the details of the proposed scheme back to its membership-led health committee, which is due to meet on 10 January. The committee will then decide on whether to accept, reject, or formally consult NHS members on the proposals.

Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “This is the government’s final offer. On some issues, such as contribution rates for the low-paid next year, and for people close to retirement, we have made progress.

“On others, we always knew this would be a damage-limitation exercise aimed at reducing the worst impacts of the government’s pension changes.

“We’ve always believed public sector workers deserve decent pensions, and our members have shown they are willing to take action to defend these.”

Downing Street said it was “hopeful of making progress” and confirmed that Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, would make a statement to the Commons today.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have always said we wanted to reach an agreement by the end of the year. We remain hopeful that can be done.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It is still unclear what the UK government’s plans are and how they could apply to Scotland, and we will assess any potential impact on Scottish pension schemes when we have more detail.