Occupational Pensions

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2004 National Delegate Conference
2 March 2004
Carried as Amended

Conference notes the growing retreat by employers from the provision of good quality occupational schemes. This includes not only the closure of final salary schemes, but also moves to downgrade schemes by worsening accrual rates, increasing employee contributions and raising retirement ages. Conference believes that unless the above trends are reversed, the results will be increased pensioner poverty and reduced levels of economic prosperity in future. This comes on top of years of eroding the value of the state retirement penison.

We now have a government that expects ordinary people to incur massive debt in order to obtain the education needed for many public service jobs, and to pay more for a pension at the end of their working life

Conference calls upon the government not to be guided on its policy on public sector pensions by the example of the private sector, but to set the standard in pension provision by providing high quality occupational pension schemes. In particular, Conference believes that reform of public sector schemes should respect the following principles:

1)reform should be to better tailor schemes to the needs of their members, not to cut costs;

2)final salary schemes remain the only form of pension provision that can

guarantee a decent income for workers on low to moderate incomes, and

should be retained;

3)tightening restrictions on early and ill-health retirement will do little to raise the age at which people leave work and will force more people to retire onto means-tested benefits;

4)there should be no increase in normal retirement ages – instead, schemes should provide workers with the option of retiring on a flexible basis, for instance by working part-time whilst starting to draw their pension;

5)all remaining forms of discrimination within pension schemes should be eliminated including discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and marital status.

Conference further notes that a high and increasing proportion of employers in the private sector, including those operating in the public services, provide money purchase schemes with very low or no employer contributions. Conference welcomes the resolution at last year’s Labour party conference calling for all employers to be compelled to contribute into pensions for their employees. Conference urges the government to implement this policy as a matter of urgency, with the level of employer contribution set at a minimum of ten per cent.

Conference reaffirms the importance of providing sufficient protections to ensure that the members of private sector schemes receive the benefits they are entitled to. Conference notes the measures announced by the government in order to improve the security of final salary schemes in the private sector, including:

a)the power for trustees to compel an employer intending to wind up a defined benefit scheme to fund any deficit at the date of winding up;

b)the proposed pensions protection fund, although if this is to provide genuine security, it must be backed by a role for the government as guarantor of last resort;

c)proposals to legislate to prevent employers from opting out of the requirement to allow member nominated trustees to sit on trustee boards;

d)proposals to require employers and trustees to consult with scheme members over scheme changes.

However, Conference is concerned that the government’s proposals for a scheme specific funding standard to replace the minimum funding requirement will allow employer manipulation in order to keep the level of employer contributions low, and calls for safeguards to be developed in order to prevent this from happening.

Conference absolutely rejects any attempt to restrict or diminish occupational pensions and instructs the National Executive Council to work with UNISON service groups and other unions to prepare a co-ordinated campaign against these proposals.

Conference instructs the National Executive Council to:

i)support the service groups in negotiating to protect and reform public sector schemes;

ii)mount a high profile UNISON-wide campaign to highlight the decline of occupational pension provision and its future consequences and to seek an end to discrimination in provision, including on grounds of sexual orientation and marital status, working in partnership with the TUC, the National Pensioners’ Convention and other groups;

iii)call on the TUC to call a day of action in defence of pension rights;

iv)support any service group or section taking action to defend their occupational pension;

v)produce information, guidance and campaigning material on pensions issues for individuals and branches;

vi)develop a network of UNISON trustees, investment panel members and pension activists, with the aim of providing support and gathering intelligence;

vii)press for all employers to be compelled to contribute into pension for their employees at a minimum rate of ten per cent.

viii)organise local protests and rallies against attacks proposed;

ix)should the employers refuse to back down, then in consultation with the service groups to organise a co-ordinated ballot of all affected members across service groups for lawful industrial action up to and including strike action;

x)should members support strike action, a series of co-ordinated UK-wide strikes at least one of which is to be linked to a UK-wide demonstration or national demonstrations.

Conference considers that at a time of unparalleled prosperity and inequality in British society any diminution in occupational pensions is entirely unacceptable. Furthermore, in any discussions and negotiations over public sector occupational pension schemes, UNISON should argue for improvements to the schemes including provisions to:

A)address the needs of the many public sector workers who are low paid women with interrupted working lives;

B)allow unmarried partners to inherit pensions.