Public Service Pensions

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21 February 2012

In NIPSA bulletin A/03/12 members were advised that NIPSA was participating in discussions with a number of other trade unions on the next steps in the campaign to defend public services and pensions in particular.  The unions involved in these discussions had not signed up to the pensions “Heads of Agreement” that had been proposed by the UK Government.  The “Heads of Agreement” were not considered as providing a basis for a fair and just settlement to the pensions dispute which led to the UK wide strike action on the 30th November last year.

The position however of the unions across the different pension schemes varies with the majority of unions representing members covered by the Health and Local Government (including NILGOSC) Schemes ruling out, for the time being, any further industrial action while negotiations with the government/employers are ongoing.

In the UK Civil Service the largest trade union PCS is committed to further strike action as part of a campaign to secure additional funding to facilitate a negotiated settlement to the pensions dispute.  However having assessed the situation and the balance of forces, PCS has concluded that further strike action would only be effective if industrial/strike action was being taken across two or more of the public service pension schemes.  The National Union of Teachers (NUT), one of the largest unions with members covered by the Teachers’ Pension Scheme has reiterated its opposition to the “Heads of Agreement” and is currently consulting with its members in England and Wales as to whether they are in favour of further strike action, along with PCS and other unions including NIPSA.  Both PCS and the NUT balloted their members much earlier in 2011 than NIPSA and their members have already taken strike action on the pensions issue on 30th June 2011 as well

as on the 30th November 2011. If, following its consultation with members, the NUT opt for further strike action, then PCS, subject to its own ongoing consultation with its membership is likely to call a further strike day on 28th March 2012. 

The NIPSA General Council met on Friday, 17th February to consider these developments and concluded that NIPSA members should be asked to support this collective action and take strike action on the 28th March.  The NIPSA General Council was however conscious of the different situations across the various public sector pension schemes and while in favour of all members taking further strike action along with colleagues in all pension schemes, has had to take account of the breadth of participation in strike action in each sector.

As a consequence the General Council concluded that if PCS decided to embark on strike action on 28th March this year then NIPSA members in the NI Civil Service and those organisations covered by the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme should be called upon to take strike action on 28th March.

Health and Social Care Sector

The situation in the Health sector is more complex and less straightforward given it is unlikely that the larger UK based unions in this sector will be participating in any strike on 28th March.  In these circumstances the NIPSA General Council took the view that it would be ineffective if NIPSA members alone, or even in conjunction with UNITE the Union (which has also rejected the Health Heads of Agreement) were to take strike action on 28th March.  It is therefore highly unlikely that NIPSA will be asking its members in the Health and Social Care sector to take strike action on the 28th March on the issue of pensions.

Local Government Sector including all members in organisations covered by the NILGOSC Pension Scheme

The situation with the Local Government pension scheme is also complex.  This pension scheme, unlike the Pay As You Go unfunded schemes for civil servants and teachers, is a funded scheme and the employers are not central government but in the main local authorities and other public bodies across the UK including Northern Ireland.  Negotiations are taking place on the future of the Local government Pension Scheme and it has been agreed that no changes, including additional employee contributions, will take place before 2014. The two largest local government trade unions in Britain have also ruled out further strike action while these negotiations are taking place and therefore it is unlikely that NIPSA members in organisations covered by the NILGOSC scheme will be called upon to participate in any pension related industrial action on 28th March.

The General Council decided to ask all NIPSA Panels, particularly those representing staff covered by the NILGOSC and Health Service pension schemes to give detailed consideration to the pensions situation and to the potential for industrial action including strike action on other issues such as staffing cuts and related matters.

In calling on NIPSA panels to consider these matters branches are reminded that the NIPSA industrial action ballot covered pensions, pay and staffing cuts. NIPSA HQ has also arranged local briefings on both the HSC and NILGOSC Schemes. Details are available on the NIPSA website.

The attack on public service pensions is an integral part of the government’s austerity plans and its objective to force ordinary working people to pay for the deficit created by the near collapse of the banking and financial sectors.

Employees in the Health and Social Care Sector and in the NI Civil Service are due to have additional pension contributions deducted from their salaries in April as the first tranche of the government’s plans to make public servants pay more for their pensions. This is additional to the measures already taken to undermine the value of public service pensions by increasing the pension age and moving from RPI to CPI for uprating pensions.

Separate bulletins will be issued shortly to Civil Service Group branches providing more detail on the preparations necessary for any possible strike action that may take place on the 28th March strike.

Brian Campfield

General Secretary

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