Union leader accused of lying to council workers over pensions to provoke strike

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The Independent Online
THE LEADER of Britain's biggest union was accused yesterday by the most senior official in local government of lying to hundreds of thousands of local government workers in an attempt to persuade them to take pre- election strike action.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public service union Unison, "wilfully'' misled union members over plans to change their pension rights, it is alleged. A private letter from Rob Pinkham, executive director of the Employers' Organisation for Local Government, responsible for nearly 500 councils in Britain, urges Mr Prentis to withdraw statements and releases issued by the union.

Mr Pinkham said the Unison general secretary was deliberately misrepresenting proposals out for consultation and decisions already made. He added: "The leadership of the union has lied to its members about the proposals. Documents issued by Unison wilfully mix up things which are being consulted on and which might be implemented in 2008, with things which are happening in 2005. It is a deliberate distortion."

The comments from such a senior official are expected to inflame a situation which could involve up to a million workers in the run up to the election. From April, the age limit for early retirement will be increased from 50 to 55. Also in April, but with some exceptions, the right of staff with long service to retire at 60 on a full pension will be withdrawn. The Government, which has ultimate power over the scheme, is consulting on a number of proposals including a suggestion that employees increase their contributions from 6 per cent to 7 per cent.

The employers' side contends that Unison is using the looming general election to put pressure on the Government over changes to pensions being introduced throughout the public sector. Privately, some officials believe that Mr Prentis is keen to take a strong stand at a time when he is facing an internal election. Mr Prentis denied lying to his members. "We have told our membership the facts," he said. "We have not mixed up proposals with decisions. The reason we are balloting members is because the first tranche of changes come into force on 1 April, so we do not have much time. We want the immediate changes to be suspended so we can go into talks.

"We are talking about the deferred pay of our members, who have a right to have their say about what happens to their pension scheme.The employers would be better served putting pressure on the Government to suspend the changes rather than flinging wild accusations."