GMB votes by 96% to reject Coalition pension cuts

Massive rejection vote by NHS workers puts GMB and Unite health workers on new collision course with Coalition negotiators as teaching and civil service unions consider further industrial action.
by - 22nd May 2012, 11.49 BST

GMB members in the health service have voted by an overwhelming 96.5% to reject the Coalition’s planned changes to their pensions.

(Pictured: GMB members at 30th November 2011 pensions strike, Sheffield)

The union has 30,000 members in the NHS working as paramedics and other ambulance staff, as hospital and community and district nurses, as ancillary staff in cleaning, catering and maintenance and as office support staff.

Turnout in the ballot – which closed on Monday – was just under 30%.

The result appears to indicate growing workplace dissatisfaction with the proposed pension changes.

A similar ballot of UNISON’s NHS members showed a 14% turnout, followed by 18% in the RCN and most recently, a 25% turnout by Unite health service workers.

Officials say even the Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley recognised that the proposed increases in contributions and the proposed increase in retirement age were the reasons why GMB members – particularly those lowest paid in the health service – would reject the proposals.

Rehana Azam, GMB National Officer for the NHS said: “GMB has always said that the Government was premature to table an offer on pensions in the NHS with many issues outstanding and not concluded including the costs of pensions to staff.”

GMB reps for the NHS, ambulance service and nursing will meet later this week to decide their next steps.

Following the GMB ballot, Unite has said a ‘growing chorus of dissent’ over pensions means ministers must return to detailed talks on the Coalition’s pensions plans.

Unite members are known to be especially concerned about the threat to link the NHS pension age to the proposed increase in the state pension age – to 68.

Rachael Maskell, Unite national officer, said: “The government can no longer ignore the growing chorus of dissent.  Around a million NHS workers, represented by seven trade unions are overwhelmingly opposed to its plans.

“The government must now realise that its plans are simply untenable. It needs to face the reality of how their pension scheme proposals will compromise the safety of patients and staff and get back around the negotiating table. Unite is ready to talk.

“The idea of a nurse or paramedic lifting patients at the age of 68 is worrying to many.

“The public sector pension plans have little to do with affordability and everything to do with paying off the deficit, caused by the banking elite.”

GMB officials close to the negotiations say their priority after such a decisive vote will be to call on ministers in ‘this very arrogant government’ to return to talks.

“The first thing is to get back into talks. We can be much more confident now in knowing what our members really think – and we can tell the government that,” the official told UnionNews.

“Collectively among all the health unions, we recognise we have to get concessions on the outstanding matters.”

For example, the GMB has indicated it is seeking minimum guarantees from the Health Secretary that NHS staff earning less than £26,500 a year will be immune from increases in pension contributions.

(Pictured: Unite health workers picket UCH hospital in London, 10th May)

Earlier this month, GMB members voted to accept the civil service proposals by 3-to-1.

The Local Government Pension Scheme negotiations have not concluded, but GMB officials say these are making good progress.

Unite NHS members, university and college teachers and some civil service unions took a second day of national coordinated strike against the proposed changes to public sector pensions on 10th May.

Officials in those unions are considering further action next month.