Civil servants reject pension offer


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The Independent Online

The biggest civil service union today rejected the Government's latest offer on public sector pensions, scuppering any hopes of an early end to the bitter dispute involving millions of workers.

The Public and Commercial Services union said "nothing had changed" since last month's day of action, when up to two million workers went on strike in protest at the planned pension reforms.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: "Nothing has changed since two million public sector workers were on strike on November 30 and we continue to oppose the Government's attempt to force public servants to pay more and work longer for less.

"It is uncontested that all the public sector pension schemes are affordable now and in the future. Public servants should not be forced to pay off a budget deficit caused by the greed and recklessness of bankers and exacerbated by the Tory-led government's economic incompetence."

Prospect, the second largest civil service union, said it was giving a green light to further negotiations, adding that it was ruling out further industrial action while the negotiations on a new scheme are under way.

Earlier, Unison confirmed it has received a final offer from the Government on NHS pensions, and agreed to take it back to its health service executive, raising hopes of a breakthrough.

The union will take the details of the proposed scheme back to its membership-led health committee, which is due to meet on January 10. The committee will then decide on whether to accept, reject, or formally consult NHS members on the proposals.

Christina McAnea, Unison's head of health, said: "This is the Government's final offer. On some issues, such as contribution rates for the low-paid next year, and for people close to retirement, we have made progress.

"On others, we always knew this would be a damage-limitation exercise aimed at reducing the worst impacts of the Government's pension changes.

"We've always believed public sector workers deserve decent pensions, and our members have shown they are willing to take action to defend these."

Downing Street said it was "hopeful of making some progress" and confirmed that Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, would make a statement to the Commons tomorrow.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have always said we wanted to reach an agreement by the end of the year. We remain hopeful that that can be done.

"The Chief Secretary has said he retains the right to take that deal off the table."

Dai Hudd, Prospect's deputy general secretary, said the main elements of the new scheme will be put to the next meeting of its executive in January.

"This is with a view to resolving the outstanding detailed issues in early 2012, the intention being to reach a comprehensive agreement about the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme for service from 1 April 2015 which will be subject to a ballot of Prospect members.

"While we will not call for further industrial action while these outstanding issues are being resolved and we are consulting members, we reserve the right to do so if the discussions fail to produce an acceptable outcome."

Mr Hudd said it had taken almost a year of talks to obtain a formal offer from the Government. "This is the first time we have been able to put the detail of the Government's proposals to members for them to consider, together with a clearer focus on the design of the new scheme.

"The November 30 action clearly persuaded ministers that they had to come up with concrete improvements to their earlier proposals. This they have now done, though we remain deeply concerned at the impact of their proposals on our members at a time of pay freeze."

Prospect said that among the improvements in the new offer were a faster accrual rate for employees, a floor below which the employer's contributions will not drop, further negotiations on the increase in contributions and their impact in Years two and three, and extension and improvement of Fair Deal pensions protection for workers transferred out of the public sector."

Talks were held all day on the two other schemes, covering teachers and local government workers. Union leaders were meeting tonight at the TUC headquarters in London to discuss the outcome of the negotiations.

Mr Serwotka said as he arrived that further industrial action could be held in the New Year, sparking applause from activists lobbying outside.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of BMA Council, said: "Throughout negotiations, the BMA and other health unions have repeatedly made the case that the NHS pension is already fair to both staff and taxpayers. The scheme was radically overhauled only three years ago, and is currently providing a positive cashflow to the Treasury.

"We are extremely disappointed that the Government has refused to concede this. Despite some improvements to the original offer, doctors stand to be hit very hard by these changes.

"Junior doctors in their 20s would have to work until the age of 68 and pay over £200,000 more in additional pension contributions.

"We will now seek our members' views on the offer, and, if they consider it unacceptable, on what action they would be prepared to take."