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UK govt pension deal with unions

20 December 2011, 18:27

London - The British government has reached a tentative deal on pension reform with most public sector unions, treasury minister Danny Alexander said on Tuesday, easing fears of further strikes after a mass walkout over the issue last month.

Union executives and members will now study the details of the proposals, part of government efforts to reduce the cost of state sector pensions it says are now unaffordable. The unions are expected to respond early next year.

"I am pleased to report to the House that heads of agreement have now been established with most unions in the local government, health, civil service and teachers schemes," Alexander told parliament.

"It will now of course be for union executives and memberships to decide their response," he added.

He said 26 of the 28 unions had signed up to an agreement in principle, but that some had reserved their position on some of the details.

Earlier on Tuesday Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), told the BBC her union had agreed to take a deal with the government to its executive for approval and would survey its membership for their opinion.

"If you ask me what do I think of the deal, I think it's probably the best we can get through negotiation," she said.

On Monday Unison, the biggest public sector union involved in the row with the government, said it had reached a deal on aspects of the National Health Service pension scheme as part of ongoing negotiations.

However, the Prison Officers' Association said it had not yet reached an agreement but was committed to further negotiations, making no mention of another strike.

ATL and Unison's stance represents a split in the union ranks and could take the momentum out of calls from other public sector unions for more strikes.

"It depends what your negotiating position is and it depends what you think is reasonable, and every negotiator from every union has to make their own decisions about that," Bousted said, commenting on other unions' continued rejection of government pension reform proposals.

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers went on strike last month over the government's pension proposals, a walkout the unions called the biggest in a generation, but which Prime Minister David Cameron labelled a "damp squib".

Union anger has been fuelled by new curbs on public sector pay and hundreds of thousands of additional job cuts outlined last month when the Conservative-led coalition government cut its economic growth forecast and said its tough austerity programme would last until 2017.

The government, trying to turn around a debt-laden economy teetering on the brink of recession, says reform is needed as people are living longer and public service pensions are unaffordable.

Unions say the changes will force people to work longer before they retire and pay more for pensions that will be worth less.

The power of Britain's trade unions was curbed by Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government in the 1980s, but the public sector remains one of their strongholds.

Last month's protests held in towns and cities across Britain mirrored strikes in other European countries, where governments are trying to juggle budget deficits with the needs of an ageing population.

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- Reuters


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