Taking positive action on support staff pensions
What is happening to public sector pensions?
Lord Hutton’s review of the pensions system recommended changes to Public Service Pension Schemes (including the Local Government scheme) in two phases:
- immediate increases in contributions; followed by
- comprehensive reform.
The Government has accepted the proposals to increase member contributions, equivalent to around 3% of salary, from April 2012.
Lord Hutton’s final report includes the following recommendations:
- new career-average public service schemes [in the Budget in March, the Chancellor made it clear that the intention was to move to career average schemes by 2015];
- that the Government honours in full the pension benefits for service already accrued, maintaining the link to final salary for this service, but as soon as is practical, employees should be moved to the new scheme – but only for future service;
- the normal pension age should be increased to bring it in line with the state pension retirement age, which will be 65 for both men and women by 2018, and is likely to rise to 66 by 2020 and later to 68;
- members should have greater choice over when to start drawing their pension and that their pension should be adjusted so they can choose to retire earlier or later than their normal pension age;
- flexible retirement should be encouraged;
- an earnings limit for those members who return to work after retirement should be removed; and
- caps on pensions accrued should be removed.
Lord Hutton recommends consultations between the Government, members and unions on the proposed changes.
He envisages that maintaining the link to final salary for past service means that existing members near to retirement should experience fairly limited change to their benefits.
Voice opposes the proposed changes. We believe that the Schemes are sustainable and Voice rejects the argument that public service pensions are too expensive. They are fair and affordable.
Public service pensions have recently been through a sufficient process of review and reform, to ensure that the Schemes will be sustainable and affordable. We believe these changes should be given time to work.
- We believe, and have argued, that there should be no changes to the Schemes.
- We believe that pensions are part of early years professionals’ total remuneration package.
- Changes will damage the confidence of public servants.
- Changes will affect recruitment and retention.
- Pensions should not be used to raise money for the Government by increasing contributions.
Voice will be arguing these points throughout the forthcoming and ongoing consultations.
Voice welcomed the report’s recommendations to protect pension rights accrued to date and maintain the link to final salary.
The most significant change is the move from a final salary scheme to a career-average revalued earnings scheme. Voice’s members, particularly those on lower salaries, will be concerned about how this will work in practice and what any move to ‘career average earnings’ would mean.
The Government has changed the measure in which pensions already in payment are increased each year by moving from RPI (retail prices index) to CPI (consumer prices index). Estimates show that this change will reduce pensions by several thousand pounds over their lifetime.
The harsh reality seems to be that public sector workers will have to pay more for their pensions and work longer for less.
What happens next?
Pensions will not change overnight
The Chancellor confirmed that Lord Hutton’s Report should be used as a basis for consultation with unions and employers.
The Local Government Pension Scheme is a statutory scheme and any changes will need to be made through statutory processes and consultations between the government employers and unions.
As negotiations progress, look out for developments in Your Voice and at pensions review.
What will all this mean to me?
The report recommends that:
- contributions will increase from 1 April 2012;
- a career-average scheme will be introduced;
- your benefits to date will be protected but you are likely to be moved to a new scheme for all future service.
A number of teachers’ unions and one head teachers’ union are balloting their members on strike action over the proposed changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Voice believes that the industrial action being contemplated by other unions is unnecessary and ineffective.
There may be teachers in your school who would not support strike action and would welcome information about joining Voice. This is available online or from Voice HQ.
What should you do if your colleagues go on strike?
- If you would normally work on the day(s) of a strike, tell your manager in writing in advance that you are available for work, if the establishment will be closed.
- Make sure that you know in advance of any special arrangements that may be made (eg some buildings may be closed). If the employer closes the whole workplace, you still need to make it clear in writing that you are available for work and not on strike.
- If you make your employer aware that you are available for work and intend to work in line with the terms and conditions of your contract, you should be paid. Failure to pay you in such circumstances would be a breach of contract and you should contact Voice for advice.
- You need to make a determined attempt to get to work. Where possible go into work with a colleague. Walk past any lawful picket line.
- It is better not to engage in any discussion or argument. In the unlikely event of an intimidatory picket, that may be unlawful, back off and telephone your employer for instructions.
- Undertake your own work as reasonably instructed by your head teacher or line manager. ‘Own work’ includes contractual duties and any non-contractual duties you would normally undertake. You could be directed to undertake some extra duties, but that direction must be reasonable. For example, support staff should continue with their own duties and not cover classes for a teacher who is on strike.
- Members should NOT take up the duties laid down by their colleagues unless circumstances are so special that individual consciences dictate otherwise – for example, where the safety of children might be jeopardised, or where late action might mean the cancellation of a national examination.
- It is acceptable to say ’No’ to employers/managers in response to unreasonable requirements or instructions. Examples of unreasonableness would include anything endangering the health and safety of a child or student, a colleague, or yourself the member. The imposition of an unreasonable workload would make it appropriate to say ‘No’. It is often difficult to define ‘reasonableness’ and members may wish to take advice in respect of particular circumstances. Do not hesitate to contact a Field Officer or Regional Officer or Headquarters at Derby.
- Do not remain on the premises alone or in very small numbers if your colleagues withdraw if, on the grounds of health and safety, this would be unwise. Write to your line manager to say that you are available to undertake any tasks that are appropriate and possible, taking into account the exceptional circumstances, and that you would be happy to undertake appropriate duties in a safe environment.
- Health and Safety law and school, college and nursery procedures and policies continue to apply. If you are concerned about your health and safety or the health and safety of the children at your workplace, contact Voice immediately for advice.
Alternatives to strike action:
- openly seek opportunities and elected positions to promote Voice policies
- collect petitions
- exploit local and national media and the Internet
- create public platforms
- lobby MPs and councillors
- demonstrate outside working hours
- invoke parental pressure and support
- seek support from governing bodies
- persuade employers to declare their position on issues
- use employment law to register official disputes
- monitor the efficiency and performance of employers
- use your contractual rights to protest against employers which sanction disruption of the children’s education or care.
There is more advice to members on the Voice website (www.voicetheunion.org.uk/action)
Myths and legends
Voice’s stance on industrial action has drawn criticism from some quarters. Some have even spread rumours and falsehoods about Voice. These are dealt with on the Voice website (www.voicetheunion.org.uk/myths).
Professional Officer Sheila Barnes
Voice Press Office