Unions representing hundreds of thousands of public sector workers appear be edging closer to agreements with the Government over pensions, but one has rejected any deal outright.
The biggest civil service union, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), dismissed what was being described as the Government’s “final offer”.
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
“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.”
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A Cabinet source later told Sky News that the PCS had not turned up for Monday’s talks and would now not be invited “any further discussions to agree the final details” of the schemes.
The talks between Whitehall officials and unions representing the four public sector pensions schemes, covering the NHS, teaching, local government and the civil service, were called in an attempt to find a breakthrough before Christmas.
Unions were reportedly earlier given the go-ahead to reach an agreement in each of the four individual schemes rather than wait for a single deal covering the whole public sector.
After a meeting of the unions to discuss the talks, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Certainly in two of the sectors there is a strong sense that progress has been made – local government and health.
“But I want to emphasise very strongly, to be crystal clear, at this stage no agreements have been reached.
“In all of these areas, these points of potential agreement have to be taken back to union executives and the appropriate body within each union.”
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Prospect, the second-largest civil service union, said it was putting a deal for its members to a union committee, while Unison said it would put an outline agreement for health sector workers to its officials.
Under the health scheme proposals, staff less than 10 years away from retirement would not face any change to their pension, and those earning less than £26,000 would be protected from an increase in contributions next year.
Also included is a pledge to consult over the impact of these changes on staff in the emergency services, including paramedics, as well as a commitment to allow those transferred out of the public sector to retain their right to stay in the pension scheme.
Christina McAnea, Unison’s head of health, said: “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.”
However, the education pensions talks appeared to have been less succesful, with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) saying it “was not able to sign up to the Government’s headline proposals”.
Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, said: “There was insufficient progress in terms of the Government’s position that teachers should work longer, pay more and get less.”
The union said it would return to negotiations in the New Year.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander is expected to address the House of Commons tomorrow – the final day of business before Christmas – on the latest talks.
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.”