UNISON delegates yesterday in a standing ovation to Thabitha Khumalo, Zimbabwe fraternal delegate
UNISON delegates yesterday in a standing ovation to Thabitha Khumalo, Zimbabwe fraternal delegate

UNISON leaders came under fire from angry delegates at the union’s National Delegate Conference yesterday, over their decision to call off the local government pensions strike after one day of action.

Speaking in the pensions debate, John McLoughton, Tower Hamlets Local Government, slammed the union leadership.

He said: ‘Why didn’t we get a vote when you called off the local government strike, because if we’d carried on striking we’d get a better deal than we’ve got now.’

He pointed out: ‘The government pension scheme is you work till you die and you don’t get a pension. We are not for “I’m Alright Jack’’, we are for solidarity across the generations.’

Linda Webb-Thornton, County Cardiff branch, said: ‘There’s still no resolution on pensions. I know we had a successful day of action. I know we came out in droves.

‘I also know that I don’t need to be told this time and time again by our national negotiators.’

She said that many women members who couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay ‘took strike action so that in the future their daughters, granddaughters and possibly great granddaughters would have a proper pension.

‘And what happened? This union turned their backs on them, calling off planned further action at a time when we would have had a major impact and at a time when our bargaining position was at its strongest. What a waste! What a disgrace!’

She concluded: ‘Our demand is full protection for existing members, equity with other public sector workers and no two-tier pension schemes.

‘There is no compromise, no compromise because we deserve nothing less.’

Referring to the Public Service Framework Agreement covering all public sector workers apart from local government workers, Glen Kelly, Bromley Branch, asked: ‘How could the general secretary sign up to a deal where 80 per cent of our members are left in the cold?

‘The price of that error of judgement is now being paid by us.’

Kelly warned about the consequences of this kind of leadership, if the judicial review on local government pensions goes against the union.

He asked: ‘If they are not prepared to defy the law on pay cuts, what confidence can we have that they will do it on pensions?’

Addressing UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, Kelly concluded: ‘Make sure your legacy is not that of sleepwalking us into the biggest defeat of our union.’

Delegate Tony Lawson said: ‘The 28th of March was a great day for our union.’

Referring to the judicial review, he added: ‘We can’t leave our pension rights in the hands of their lordships.

‘We must decide on a programme of industrial action.

‘Industrial action should be reinstated in the event of a breakdown of talks.’

Caitlin Claricotes, from Yorkshire, told conference: ‘We’ve heard a lot about negotiations and deals. We’ve heard a lot about the marvellous pension for women, you get £31 a week when you retire – wow!’

Speaking on the acceptance of the framework agreement on public sector pensions, she added: ‘It’s not good enough to say, we’re alright and to the devil with new workers.

‘They are the future of the union. We cannot deny them.’

Motion 35: Pensions, moved by the NEC, was carried overwhelmingly with amendments.

The motion originally stated: ‘Conference congratulates the union on the framework agreement on the reform of the public sector pension schemes negotiated last year between the public service unions and the government through the Public Services Forum.’

Amendment 35.7, which deleted ‘Conference congratulates the union on’ and replaced the phrase with ‘Conference notes’, was carried.

UNISON Deputy General Secretary Keith Sonnet attacked those who opposed the framework agreement.

Conference went to a card vote on Amendment 35.9, which warned that the money may not be there to guarantee lifetime protection for existing members of the health service pension scheme.

Younus Baksh, North of Tyne Health Branch, said: ‘NHS trusts have been told they have to fund the shortfall on pensions, so we’re faced with the question, either we have lifetime protection or cuts in services.’

He said that the amendment was not calling for action, it was to provide members with information.

Amendment 35.9 was carried against the recommendation of the NEC, which opposed it.

The vote was 673,566 for the amendment and 439,356 against.