Pensions offer goes to vote

Ballot launched as pensions talks reach the end of the road

Thirty-four thousand Prospect members in the civil and public services will next month be balloted on the final government offer for a new pension scheme.

Prospect’s civil service executive announced the decision at the sector’s pay and pensions forum in London on March 16, attended by more than 100 branch representatives.

The executive said it shared the anger expressed by branches at many of the wider changes being imposed by the government on public servants, like the CPI switch and the higher pension age, on which it would continue to campaign.

But it said the benefits in the proposed new scheme for the civil service were in parts an improvement on those in Nuvos, the scheme introduced five years ago for new entrants by agreement with unions.

It would therefore reluctantly be recommending acceptance of the new scheme, due to come into effect in April 2015, as the best that could be achieved by negotiation.

The executive agreed with representatives that the most objectionable feature of the proposals was the imposition of an average 3.2% increase in contribution rates at a time of pay freeze and further curbs on pay, a long-term detriment compared to the current position.

The executive called for these contribution increases to be offset by improvements to pay and is preparing to launch a sustained campaign to close the pay gap between professional workers in the public and private sectors. Research work and supporting material is being prepared to back the case on pay.

The new pension scheme, the result of 12 months intense negotiations, will now be put to all members in the union’s civil service sector. Members in the local government and teachers’ schemes will be balloted separately.

The ballot will launch on Monday April 24 and run until Friday May 11. Other unions, with whom Prospect is in close contact, are considering their position at executive meetings this week.

Among the improvements to the original offer are the transitional protection for those within 10 years of pension age, the faster accrual rate in the new scheme, and new flexibilities for members to continue working and take a pension in the old scheme at the same time.

Government has also agreed a major improvement to the current Fair Deal terms for protecting the pensions of staff who are privatised or transferred out of the service. They will retain the right to remain in the PCSPS for both the initial and subsequent transfers.

Dai Hudd, deputy general secretary, said the ‘significant movement’ in the value of benefits members will accrue in the new scheme meant that members may not have to work until State Pension Age (ie up to 68) in order to retire on a pension close to its value in the existing scheme.

Pension would build up at a faster rate, which would mitigate much of the impact of the higher pension age. Examples and a calculator will be made available so that members could judge the impact for themselves before casting a vote.

If the offer is rejected, Prospect members would be asked to follow up with a sustained programme of strike action. However, that would be without the coalition of trade unions that took action on November 30, most of whom are recommending the proposals to members.

Rejection could also jeopardise the improvements made in negotiations, as the government's offer is conditional on acceptance from a broad group of unions.

Details of the ballot will be circulated to branches and sections shortly.