Defending UNISON Members’ Pension Schemes

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2009 National Delegate Conference
29 May 2009

Conference recognises that just as negotiations on the national and Scottish Local Government Pensions Scheme (LGPS) draw to a close, and after NHS Colleagues have settled on their pension scheme, our pensions are again under attack.

Comments from Tory politicians like, “pensions apartheid” and “gilt edged” and Liberal Democrat statements that our pensions are “unsustainable and unaffordable” must be challenged. The vitriol heaped on public sector workers has rarely reached such heights and is repeated time after time.

The reality is that the average local government pensioner receives only £3,800 per year or £74 per week. Attacks on pensions not only affect the lowest paid, they also add a further tax burden in having to pay additional welfare benefits.

Conference notes that pension schemes represent one of the most significant gains of our movement. The ability to deliver a decent retirement through defined benefit pension schemes allows workers to plan for a reasonable retirement.

The historical growth of UK pension scheme assets reached a peak in 2007 with nearly £1 trillion in asset values were held. Currently around 20% of the shares on the UK stock market are held by our pension schemes are there significant holdings on the stock markets around the world.

However, Conference is alarmed at the decline in decent pension schemes over the last 10 years and that only 2,000 defined benefit schemes are left in the UK and that according to press reports 25% of these will close completely and 75% are likely to see detrimental changes.

Furthermore the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is under pressure from the government and employers to scale down benefits and increase contributions even before cost sharing discussions arrive in 2010.

Defined contribution pension schemes, where the final benefits are determined by the pot of money left at the end of working life, place all the risks on the members and not the employers.

Conference acknowledges that any pension scheme relies on the economic performance of the economy and that pension schemes have a key and influential role in the economy.

Pension schemes demand a health economy and pension schemes are the universal owners of the economy by having a share of all of the available assets, such as company shares, government bonds, property, etc.

To defend our member’s pension schemes means we have to actively get involved in the running of the economy.

We believe that it was the prospect of co-ordinated industrial action across the public sector that forced the government to make a number of concessions on the most recent attacks on our pensions and that the public sector unions need to give a clear message to this and any future government that they will face even stronger resistance to more fundamental attacks on our pensions.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council, service groups, regions, self organised groups and branches to organise the defence of pension schemes and campaign for the restoration of defined benefit schemes:

1)maintain and expand their campaign to combat the adverse and misleading publicity about public service pensions in the press and media;

2)provide information to all UNISON members on the plans for public sector pension schemes, of all the parties standing for election in the next Westminster elections, so that our members can make an informed choice about which political party candidate to vote for;

3)encourage and support regions and branches to campaign locally to defend our public sector pensions and to lobby politicians on this issue;

4)working closely with all public sector unions who are willing to jointly campaign to defend our pensions rights and in particular to seek agreement on working for co-ordinated strike action is necessary;

5)UNISON to bring a motion to the TUC calling on them to organise a united campaign in defence of final salary pension schemes in both the private and public sector;

6)Mapping and undertaking research into the state of UNISON members pension schemes for all sectors and detailing the costs of poor pension provision;

7)Campaign for the restoration of final salary schemes and against all scheme closures;

8)Provide briefings for activists against scheme closure or attack;

9)Step up the campaign for LGPS governance to obtain our rights under the European Directive 41/2003 Institutions for Occupational Retirement Provision;

10)Within the LGPS and other UNISON sectors not in LGPS urge regions and branches to establish pension and investment organising groups to defend member’s schemes and understand pension investments;

11)Urge all branches to recruit and support trustees and LGPS representatives;

12)Seek UNISON nominations for trusteeships on appropriate schemes;

13)Providing training on responsible investment;

14)Sign up activists for the UNISON capital stewardship web community;

15)We call on Labour Link and the GPF to take on this campaign.