The campaign against the government’s plans to attack Health Service
Pensions has been strengthened over the last few days as the results of
consultation by trade unions and professional bodies on the proposed
deal. This is despite the government’s position that they have presented
their final offer.
The campaign against the government’s plans to attack Health Service Pensions has been strengthened over the last few days as the results of consultation by trade unions and professional bodies on the proposed deal. This is despite the government’s position that they have presented their final offer.
The Royal College of Nursing returned a 2 to 1 vote to reject the proposals, albeit on a low turnout, here is their report of the consultation:
“The Royal College of Nursing’s governing Council met today to discuss the next steps on NHS pensions following a vote of members.
The vote closed yesterday and 65,759 votes were cast, a turnout of 16.17%; 41,009 members (62.36%) voted to reject the Government’s proposals, while 24,533 members (37.30%) voted to accept the proposals.
Professor Kath McCourt, Chair of RCN Council, said: “Council met today to hear the results of the member vote on NHS pensions and to consider the next steps. While the members who voted expressed a clear view, showing their anger at the government proposals, we are disappointed that more of our members did not take the opportunity to vote. We will now, as a matter of urgency, meet with other unions who are at varying stages in their own member consultations.”
RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dr Peter Carter said: “Throughout this process, our members’ number one concern about pensions has been the prospect of working in a physically demanding job until the age of 68; which is due to take effect in 2046. The Government has acknowledged the physical demands of professions such as the police, who are not facing the prospect of working until they are nearly 70. We vehemently believe the demands of nursing mean that the same should apply to our profession and we are committed to stepping up campaigning on this issue to make the Government change its mind.”
Dr Carter added: “It’s clear when I listen to nurses from around the UK, that the pressures facing them are immense; not just on the pensions issue, but also the prospect of a massive NHS reorganisation, the threat of redundancy, a pay freeze and deteriorating staffing levels. Despite all this, nurses and health care assistants continue to put the interests of their patients first. That’s why they were so dismayed when the Secretary of State for Health attributed our opposition to the Health and Social Care Bill to simple self-interest on the pensions issue. The anxieties of our members continue, and we will continue to speak up on their behalf.”
Meanwhile the British Medical Association also voted to reject. The BMA will be balloting for industrial action short of strike action as they explain on their website:
"BMA Council today (25 February) decided to ballot doctors on industrial action for the first time since 1975. We’re taking this step very reluctantly – if industrial action does take place, it would be in a form that does not cause harm to patients. Strike action was ruled out as part of this commitment." "Just four years ago, NHS staff agreed to major reforms to ensure their pension scheme is not a drain on taxpayers – and this is still valid today. Now the government wants to go back on that deal. Doctors and medical students have overwhelmingly rejected the current offer, and we’ve pursued every avenue we possibly could to bring the government back to meaningful talks. As yet, there has been no movement in their position, so we’ve been forced to ballot."
In another development the UNISON Service Group Executive in Scotland has recently also won an argument with the national leadership of the union as to whether they could reject the offer and take further strike action. This comes on the back of the decision by the 100,000 strong UNITE section in the NHS to reject the proposals.
These developments illustrate that pressure within the NHS has been mounting in respect of the Pension proposals. Although the UNISON leadership have agreed to the “Heads of Agreement” in the NHS, the battle over pensions needs to be seen against the general situation within the Health Service, where the Tories and Lib Dems have come under enormous criticism.
Most recently they have refused to consider a debate on the NHS in Parliament despite the fact that an epetition collected 160,000 signatures in opposition to the changes. Here is a press release from UNISON published 29/2/2012:
“UNISON has condemned another "broken promise" today, after the government refused to honour an epetition calling for a House of Commons debate on the NHS. The union helped acquire a staggering 160,000 signatures for the epetition calling for the government to drop its controversial health and social care bill – making it the best supported epetition since their introduction, and with far more than the 100,000 signatures supposedly needed to earn a debate by MPs. But the backbench committee has this week declined to find time for such a debate. "This is another broken promise from the Tory-led government, which had proclaimed that if 100,000 people signed the petition they would be able to have a debate on the NHS," said UNISON’s head of health Christina McAnea. "They have broken promises on the NHS, they have broken promises on tuition fees, they have broken their promise over these petitions. How can we believe anything they say any more?" The coalition launched its epetition website last July, with the undertaking by the Leader of the House that he would send to the backbench business committee any petition signed by 100,000 people, asking the committee to consider finding time for a debate on it. Ms McAnea said that UNISON was encouraging even more people to sign the petition, "to demonstrate the real depth of anger around this."
The Tories and Lib Dems have generated enormous opposition to their proposals for the NHS in the Health and Social Care Bill and it is not ruled out that they could blunder into a confrontation with the unions, despite the current position of the UNISON leadership.
This is what we wrote in the Editorial Statement in this month’s edition of Socialist Appeal:
“In regard to pensions, a number of unions in local government and the Health Service, most notably UNISON and the GMB, have accepted the government’s framework (the “heads of agreement”) and are simply negotiating over how best to share out the cuts. They were desperate to end the industrial action after only one strike and get back to talks, despite the rotten deal on offer.
The UNISON leadership is raising the bogeyman that the Government will impose a deal, therefore we need to give in and accept the best we can. But any attempt to impose such a deal, given the scale of opposition to the pension changes and the Health Bill, would only escalate the situation and lead to a confrontation with the whole of the NHS workforce.”
The position in the NHS will also have an important impact on the rest of the public sector. Especially in the Civil Service and Education, where trade unions are consulting members in the run up to possible strike action on March 28th. The greater the pressure that can be exerted within the NHS and also within Local Government on the leadership of the unions to fight to defend our pensions the more likely we will succeed across the board.
The crisis within the capitalist system is driving these attacks; it’s not simply a question of Tory “ideology”, which means that there is very little room for manoeuvre in other words there is no easy compromise. The only way to secure any worthwhile deal is on the basis of the militant action of the public sector workers, as the Sparks have recently demonstrated.
• Reject the NHS Pension Proposals
• Defend our pensions
• For united action on March 28th