‘Stand up against the South West Pay Cartel’ –and stop pay cuts, Unison urges MPs

Unison members at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS trust face pay cuts if their national agreement is broken
Unison members at the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS trust face pay cuts if their national agreement is broken

UNISON is calling on MPs from the South West of England to give their backing to local health workers including nurses, therapists, porters, and NHS cleaners, by opposing plans to cut their pay in the South West.

The union briefed MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday, about damaging and divisive plans by 20 trusts to form a regional pay consortium.

The union warned that the cartel is not only unfair to local health staff, but threatens to undermine national negotiations on pay and conditions for the UK’s 1.5 million health workers.

Christina McAnea, Unison head of health, said: ‘South West MPs need to know the truth about the damage that this cartel will cause to patients and staff.

‘They need to stand up against the South West Pay Cartel whose aim is simply to cut pay for vital health workers including nurses, healthcare assistants and hospital porters.

‘Not only are their plans unfair – health workers are already facing years of pay restraint – they also threaten to derail on-going national negotiations, covering pay and conditions for health workers across the UK.

‘Breaking national pay agreements will undo years of work creating a level playing field for pay and conditions across the NHS.

‘Patients will pay the ultimate price as workers who can move to areas where wages are higher will do so, leaving NHS trusts in low wage areas struggling with staff shortages.’

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: ‘We are briefing MPs from across the South West about the danger to patients and staff of setting up a 19-strong cartel of rogue NHS employers in their region.

‘The hospital trusts are attempting to drive down wages and flout Agenda for Change terms and conditions by introducing regionalised pay.

‘The existence of the cartel has serious consequences, undermining national negotiations on behalf of the 1.5m NHS workers covered by Agenda for Change.’

l Unison also commented on the white paper on social care, criticising the coalition government on Wednesday for failing to set out exactly how social care will be funded in the future, branding the deferral of these decisions until the 2013 or 2014 Spending Review as ‘cowardly’.

Unison said said that snatching back allowances from pensioners, or enacting the Dilnot ‘death tax’ will place a disproportionate burden on the sick, the weak and the poor.

Without extra funding the social care crisis will grow while the quality of services will drop.

Efficiency savings will not be able to fill the £1.2bn-a-year funding gap, and Unison warned that more care services will be cut without additional resources.

Unison National Officer Helga Pile said: ‘This white paper does not go far enough to protect the most vulnerable in our society, and leaves too many unanswered questions about how the care funding gap will be filled.

‘The fairest way forward would be to fund social care through general taxation and provide a “national care service”, free at the point of need.

‘Doing so would address the issues of underfunding.

‘Failing to set out exactly how social care will be funded in the future is bad enough, but deferring the decision until the 2013/14 spending review is cowardly and short-termist.

‘We need decisive action from this government, and a commitment from them that they will not shirk the responsibility of providing good quality, universal social care.

‘Re-packaging care costs and cuts in the wider spending review or speculating on whether we can rely on private insurance companies to mitigate the funding gap is in no way a sustainable long-term solution.

‘The current situation encourages a race to the bottom for cheaper care, poorer quality conditions for care users and places providers and the workforce under pressure to deliver a service under low pay and in constrained time slots.’

Unison believes that the fairest way forward would be to fund social care, like the NHS, through general taxation – and that a ‘national care service’, truly integrated with the NHS, would address the issues of underfunding, monitoring and regulation, and remove the need to rely on private insurance companies.

l Meanwhile, Unison is calling on the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), to get its facts straight, after the ‘shady right-wing, low-tax pressure group’ yet again attacked the Local Government Pensions Scheme (LGPS), calling for it to be reformed.

The union is accusing the alliance of being ‘out of touch with reality’ as the government, employers and trade unions have been involved in months of talks on the local government scheme.

The Taxpayers’ Alliance latest ‘research’ is nothing new, said the union. The LGPS like nearly all pension funds in the UK, is maturing with an increasing number of pensioners.

By cherry-picking the facts to support their agenda of attacking adequate pension provision in the UK, they conveniently forget that last year the figures showed the LGPS was still cash rich to the tune of around £3.5 billion pounds a year – that means the contributions going in were more than pensions being paid out.

They also conveniently forget that the LGPS is funded with about £150 billion in assets and that roughly a third of the money going into the funds comes from investment income.

They are also conveniently forgetting that the savage cuts in services mean many workers are being made redundant – increasing the numbers forced into retirement.

‘In short, the LGPS is alive and well while the reactionary ideology of the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance is struggling,’ said Unison.

Even before talks, the (LGPS) could afford to pay all of its liabilities for the next twenty years without a single penny more in contributions and that has not changed.

Heather Wakefield, Unison Head of Local Government, said: ‘This right-wing pressure group never lets the true facts get in the way of an opportunity to attack public spending or public services.

‘Time and time again, the group makes the same, tired old claims about local government pensions.

‘They are cherry-picking the facts when in reality latest figures showed the LGPS was still cash rich to the tune of around £3.5 billion pounds a year – that means the contributions going in were more than pensions being paid out.

‘The TPA are simply out of touch with reality as Unison has been in detailed talks for months with the government and employers on changes to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

‘Encouraging members to join the pension scheme is a low cost way of helping people to save for their retirement.

‘The alternative – pricing the low paid out of the scheme – would cost the taxpayer more in the long run as they would have to pick up a multi-billion-pound means-tested benefits bill.

Unison went on to elaborate, point by point, what is wrong with claims made by the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

‘There is no pensions timebomb – as usual, the TPA is deliberately making a ridiculous assumption that everyone will retire at once. With pensions you have to take the long view.

‘Just 5p in every £1 paid in council tax goes towards pensions, not £1 in every £5 as the TaxPayers’ Alliance claims.

‘Councils get only 25% of their revenue from council tax, 75% comes from other sources, including business rates and local government grants.

‘The scheme is not over generous – the average pension in the LGPS is just £4,000 a year, dropping to just £2,600 for women.

‘We need to bring private sector pensions up to a decent level, not pull public sector pensions down – two thirds of employees do not get a single penny in contributions from their employers towards their pensions.

‘The government’s plans for auto-enrolment will not go far enough to keep people off means-tested benefits.’