Unison rejects pension reform in low-turnout, knife-edge vote

1 May 12
Unison’s health service members have narrowly rejected proposed changes to NHS pensions, but the low turnout in the ballot means no industrial action will result.

By Richard Johnstone | 1 May 2012

Unison’s health service members have narrowly rejected proposed changes to NHS pensions, but the low turnout in the ballot means no industrial action will result.

Following strike action in November, members were asked to vote on the government’s final proposal on reform. Unison said last December that the offer was ‘the best that can be achieved by negotiations’.

The changes proposed include increasing the pension age and changing the defined benefit scheme from one based on final salary to one based on career average earnings. This will apply for existing scheme members as well as new entrants.

The ballot results, announced today, showed that 50.4% of members voting rejected the changes, while 49.5% accepted them. Only 14.8% of the union’s more than 400,000 NHS members voted.

Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said the close vote and low turnout meant there was no mandate to either endorse the changes or take further industrial action.

Discussions will now be held with other unions representing health workers to decide ‘the next steps in the pensions campaign’, she added. Unison is part of the 15 union-strong NHS Staff Council.

McAnea said: ‘The turnout is disappointing but in some ways is not unexpected. Our members in health – including nurses, paramedics, occupational therapists, porters, medical secretaries [and] health care assistants – are in the second year of a pay freeze. Many face job cuts and increasing pressure at work as well as attacks on their terms and conditions.

‘The turnout reflects the low morale and current difficult state of the NHS.’

The government has said that, with the exception of local government, negotiations between unions and employers over pension changes have concluded. The changes will be introduced from 2015.

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