Council unions in showdown talks as strike looms over pensions row

    Emergency talks between local authority unions and the government
    were expected this week in a final attempt to avert a strike over
    planned changes to council pensions.

    The move follows significant majorities supporting a strike in
    ballots by five unions representing 1.4 million council employees
    last week.

    As Community Care went to press, the unions said post-ballot talks
    with deputy prime minister John Prescott and employers over the
    planned changes were “progressive”, and that more talks would
    follow.

    The unions warned that failure to reach a deal would result in an
    initial one-day strike in councils across the UK on 23 March on a
    scale not seen since the General Strike in 1926.

    The five unions – Unison, GMB, Amicus, T&G and Ucatt – are
    angry at plans to raise the retirement and pension age for council
    workers a year earlier than for other public sector workers.

    The changes would stop the practice of council staff retiring early
    on a full pension unless it is due to ill health or redundancy. The
    minimum age at which any pension can be paid will rise from 50 to
    55, except in the case of ill health.

    The unions say local government pension scheme deficits are largely
    the result of pension holidays taken by some councils in the early
    1990s.

    Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Our members who have
    paid their pension contributions week in, week out are very angry
    and are not prepared to accept changes by diktat.

    “Unison wants real negotiations for the first time on a sustainable
    good pension scheme which benefits all local government workers and
    which councils and staff can afford.

    “Let’s hope the Local Government Association and the employers see
    sense and abandon these changes so that negotiations can take
    place.”

    Amicus national officer Gail Cartmail added: “Progress is being
    made but passions are running high. If the strike on 23 March goes
    ahead, public sector workers will make it a big day.”

    The average local government pension is £3,800 a year.

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