THE SENTINEL Tuesday October 11, 2011
Thousands of public sector workers balloted over strike action in answer to changes LOOKING AHEAD: Deputy county council leader Ian Parry.
Senior staff set to be retrained in front line duties COUNCILS across the region have begun preparing emergency contingency plans to cope with mass walkouts. Despite forward planning, councils are unlikely to be able to prevent some services being suspended if Unison members back strike action. Staffordshire County Council deputy leader Ian Parry said: “We have been working closely with senior managers to prepare for the strike, to help to minimise disruption and potential risks for service users, the public and staff who will be working normally.” Newcastle Borough Council Leader Stephen Sweeney added: “The council will take whatever steps it can to minimise disruption to services in the event of strike action and ensure that residents are kept fully informed.” Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service has retrained senior officers and station managers – including chief executive Peter Dartford – in front-line duties to prepare for a potential strike. Mr Dartford said: “We’ve started to implement plans, simply to ensure we are as prepared as we can be.” CONFIDENT: Dave Prentis says staff have been pushed too far.
‘We’re confident of big yes vote’ UNISON chief Dave Prentis says November 30 will be the biggest day of industrial action in UK history. The union’s general secretary said the ballot covers 9,500 separate employers and 1.3 million members across the country. Mr Prentis said unions have been talking to the Government for eight months over pensions, but have made “very little progress.” He added: “We are doing everything possible to get a high turnout. “I am urging Unison members to stand up for their pension rights and vote yes for strike action, in the biggest ballot in UK history. “All along, we have been hoping for the best, but planning for the worst, and the worst is happening. “We know our members will not take this decision lightly. They dedicate their entire lives to caring for other people, but they have been pushed too far. “We are confident of a big yes vote.”
Unions say the pension sums just don’t add up
BY ALEX CAMPBELL
Picture: Alex Severn
UNIONS say mass strike action planned across the country is a “last resort” in a battle to protect public sector pension schemes threatened by Government cuts. Leaders in North Staffordshire are also aiming to dispel what they say is a false belief that public sector pensions are “gold-plated”. According to Unison Staffordshire, the average local government pension is £4,000 per year, dropping to an average of £2,800 – or £56 per week – for women. The Government wants to increase pension contributions from salaries by up to 50 per cent while also raising the retirement age and – according to unions – providing a worse pension. Changes will see workers who earn more than £15,000 a year pay about three per cent more per month, on top of an average of six per cent of their salary already contributed. Pensions in local government, the NHS and the principle civil service all face alterations. In the case of local government, Unison says the pensions scheme already pays out less money than it receives. Jane Heath, Unison branch secretary for Staffordshire, described the action as a “last resort”. She said: “These are not goldplated pensions. “Reforms made four years ago brought in changes to make the local government pension scheme affordable and sustainable. “It’s important to understand that none of the extra contributions will go towards improving anyone’s pension. “Instead they are being imposed to help the treasury pay off debts created by a banking crisis and pave the way for tax cuts for the better off. “We do not want to harm the public and we know that we can count on their support. “It is a tax on low paid workers, on top of heavy job losses and a two-year pay freeze at a time of high inflation.” The Unison branch at Staffordshire Police has more than 1,000 members; 87 per cent of police civilian staff in the county. Its members include PCSOs, scenes of crime officers, forensics investigators, maintenance workers and emergency control centre operators. Michael Shepherd, branch secretary of Unison at Staffordshire Police, has been in contact with Chief Constable Mike Cunningham and the police federation to discuss contingency plans in the event of a strike. He said: “The last thing our members want to see is anybody being put in danger and I wrote to the Chief Constable as soon as a strike was discussed. “In 2008, changes were introduced that made the fund affordable. “About £4 billion more is going in than going out.
‘The money will go to treasury not my pension’
CAMPAIGN: Local Unison reps Jenny Harvey, left, and Jane Heath are helping to mobilise forces as a ballot for strike action goes ahead. “The Government is trying to raise funds to offset things like council tax charges. “Our members don’t want to put three per cent more of their salary in, to get less out.” Jenny Harvey, secretary of the North Staffordshire community health branch of Unison, said: “It’s not just the rise in contributions which, for some, will double the amount they pay in. “It’s also the rise in retire-
ment age and the worse pension that will result. “The NHS scheme is already affordable, more is paid in than paid out, and the Government is dishonest to suggest otherwise.” Heather Wakefield, Unison’s head of local government, said: “Changes to the accrual rates would bring down the value of their pensions even further. “We have said from the start that these drastic changes to the
local government pension scheme are not necessary; it is cash rich and financially sound.” A spokesman for the Communities and Local Government Department said: “The cost of providing public service pensions is rising and reform is essential if we are to more fairly protect taxpayers. “This is a consultation and as such discussions on the proposals are ongoing. “Instead of embarking on entirely unnecessary industrial action, Unison should instead be engaging in discussion and representing their members’ interests. “We have made clear that those on salaries under £15,000 are unaffected by these proposals and that those who earn less will be asked to pay in less than high earners in the scheme.”
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FINANCIAL assessment officer Clare Evans will have to pay up to three per cent more of her wages into a pension pot every month if the Government’s proposals are implemented. The 29-year-old, of Stafford, has worked for Staffordshire County Council for eight years and has been making pension contributions for two years. She has calculated that the new pensions scheme would require her to put about £60 more per month toward her pension. But according to her union, the amended final salary scheme will likely result in her receiving a worse pension. And she could have to wait until the age of 68 before she is allowed to receive it. Clare said: “I will have to pay about £60 more per month, but the money will be going to the treasury and not one penny will go to my pension. “I am single and live alone at the moment so it is already a struggle to pay bills. “There has been an increase in VAT and the cost of utility bills has also gone up a lot. “On top of that we have had a two-year pay freeze. “Like a lot of people I work full-time and I work very hard. “People pay into pensions to make sure they have a secure future, but I’m being asked to pay for something I’m not even going to see for another 38 to 40 years. “I don’t think we have any other options.” Members of Claire’s union Unison are being balloted from today over a national walkout on November 30. If the Government’s proposals are implemented it will save about £900 million per year. But the Local Government Association has raised concerns that people like Clare Evans may pull out of the pensions scheme if their contributions rise, making it unaffordable nationally.