Letter: Public-sector pensions

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The Independent Online
Sir: I write to challenge the accusations and insinuations made against me by Rob Pinkham, executive director of the Employer's Organisation for Local Government ("Union leader accused of lying to council workers over pensions to provoke strike", 3 February).

The decision to ballot members for strike action, should the Government press ahead with changes to pensions, was taken in June 2004 by the union' s local government conference. The unions have made strenuous efforts to avoid action. In July, at the Labour Party policy forum, ministers agreed that proposed changes would be subject to detailed consultation with unions, with a view to agreeing changes that were based on firm evidence.

Despite this promise, it has become clear that the decision to increase retirement ages was not negotiable. We have raised the issue with the Employers' Organisation for Local Government (EO). They made it clear that it would be fruitless pursuing the matter with them, and refused to allow it to progress through the agreed disputes procedure.

Mr Pinkham conveniently ignores the fact we are being forced to respond to the Government's timetable, not the other way round. Regulations which would change the retirement age have been laid before Parliament. Unless MPs annul them, they will become law on 1 April. Strike action is the last resort.

On the facts, we have produced a wealth of information and analysis, explaining the changes, much of which has been posted on our web site. On only one occasion has the Employers' Organisation questioned its accuracy with me, and I personally replied to the relatively minor points of concern in a polite exchange in December. And my staff have given EO staff and those from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister the opportunity to comment on complex pensions information, which we are explaining to our members, before we publish it.

Slurs by Mr Pinkham can't disguise the fact that these changes will force many thousands of hard-working public sector workers to work longer or have their pension cut.

DAVE PRENTIS

General Secretary

Unison

London WC1

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