This site is intended for health professionals only

Unions will ballot on pension strike action

Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members are "concerned" and "angry" over pension reforms, claims RCN chief exec.

Dr Peter Carter has branded the prospect of nurses paying higher contributions, working for longer and receiving less when they retire as "truly appalling".

He said the government should be "in no doubt" it needs to find a fair pension deal for nurses.

Carter's comments come as a series of union leaders served notice of strike action ballots over pension reforms today (14 September).

"Pensions are a huge issue for RCN members. I have never seen members so concerned and angry," said Carter. 

"We are working closely with the other health unions looking at all the options available for getting our voices heard."

The RCN will report on the progress of pension talks at its Council meeting on 26 October.  The Council will then determine whether the RCN should ask members "to take a very difficult and significant step" to strike.

In proposing a motion for supporting mass public sector walkouts at the TUC annual conference, the leader of one of the UK's largest healthcare unions issued a formal notice to 9,000 employers that his 1.1 million union members would be balloted.

"We have had enough. We have been talking [with the government] for eight months and if we don't say no now, they will be back for more and more," said Unison leader Dave Prentis.

"We will negotiate any time, any place but if they impose change we will take industrial action.

"Now is the time to make a stand."

In light of an ageing population, the government is looking to increase pension contributions among public sector workers from April 2012.

It is argued this will allow pension schemes to remain 'sustainable'.

"The NHS pension will remain one of the very best available, providing a guaranteed pension level for all employees," a spokesperson from the Department of Health told Nursing in Practice.

"We will also protect the pensions people have already earned. None of the rights people have accrued will be affected.

"But the status quo is not sustainable, with people living much longer, substantially increasing the cost to the taxpayer. Lord Hutton made it absolutely clear that there needs to be a fairer balance between what employees and taxpayers contribute to public service pensions. 

"Constructive talks on pensions are still ongoing. It would be very wrong to make assumptions about their outcome."

Unison will be joined by a multitude of other unions representing public sector workers such as Unite, GMB and the Fire Brigade's Union in consulting with members over co-ordinated strike action starting on the 30 November.

Prentis warned his members strike action will not be easy and those who do strike will be "vilified".

"Make no mistake, this is it. We are determined and we are united in fighting for what is right," he said.

"Hands off our pensions."

Prentis' rousing speech won a standing ovation from the 300 TUC delegates and was backed by a number of other union representatives.

Gail Cartmail, assistant general secretary of Unite - which represents some 100,000 healthcare workers, also gave notice of the union's intention to strike.

"When the coalition came to power, we knew we would face the fight of our lives. We knew they would try to divide and weaken us," said Cartmail.

"We are a responsible union and have attended every meeting with government representatives over pension reforms. While we will not walk away from talks, we are also not going to just sit on our hands."

The motion for united strike action was backed unanimously by TUC delegates.

A British Medical Association (BMA) spokesperson told Nursing in Practice BMA strike action "will not necessarily follow" after today's (14 September) announcements.

"The situation hasn't changed from our point of view.  Our preferred way forward is still to reach an agreement with the government through negotiation, and industrial action is a last resort," said the spokesperson.

"We're in close contact with the other health unions, and as a group we'll be looking at all issues relating to the negotiations, including the possibility of industrial action in the event that talks fail to make progress.

"It doesn't necessarily follow that a decision to take action by another NHS union means the BMA will take the same action.

"Any form of legal industrial action by doctors first requires a decision by BMA Council, and then a positive result in a ballot of the profession."

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, told TUC delegates government ministers will have to come up with "new ideas" if negotiation talks are to be given a chance. If they fail to deliver, he argued unions are "justified" in their decision to strike.


We asked if you think the unions are right to strike over pension reforms. Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Yes the current culture in the health sector is very hostile and after 30 years in nursing as an RCN member who was opposed to strike action, I will not be taking action on 30 November" - Catherine, Scotland

"As a nurse with 30 yrs service I feel we have been held to ransom for too long, we are currently experiencing a pay freeze when the bankers responsible are raking in huge bonuses, I and many, many others have paid into the pension scheme and did so to provide for our retirement. Why then
should we be punished at a point in life when we have no way of making further provision for ourselves. We need to be prepared to strike to protect what little we have left" - Ann, Glasgow

"I think we need to stand up for are rights! We have been held over a barrel for many years regarding our pay and we need to be able to have our say on our pension. I agree a fair deal needs to put on the table but they need to take into account nurses' working conditions, type of job etc" - CD PN, South Wales

"This will, in effect, be another pay cut. I do not like the idea of striking and it should certainly not compromise patient safety but I think the government always depends on the fact that nurses do not strike - perhaps in this instance we should all stand together" - Linda Helmore, NE

"Yes, without a doubt" - Felicia Salmon, London

"Yes but we should not jeopardise patients' safety" - Amy Wong, Milton Keynes

"Yes, of course, we've been held to ransom for too long. Perhaps the government can claw some money back from the people who have never, or never intend to work at all" - Janet, NE

"I will not strike and I think people who do are being selfish. Our great country cannot magic money from nowhere and be expected to sustain us for 30 years of retirement. The maths does not add up so something has to give. Teachers and nurses do better than many professions and yet they're still
greedily saying everyone and everything else can take cuts but not when it affects me. The reality is to keep our country great we all have to accept change and work with what you've got" - Nurse Parker, Birmingham

"Why doesn't the coalition government concentrate its efforts on closing tax loopholes for the super rich to bolster our flagging economy instead of undermining the rights of public sector workers (not just nurses). Why should we be made to pay the pay the price for costly mistakes made by the banks.  It's a national disgrace and I shall be voting for strike action,
if negotiations fail, for the first time in my 24 yr career" - SANurse, Wales

"Yes, without doubt" - Val Gerrard, Norfolk

"Absolutely. No question!!" - Anne McGinley, Glasgow

"It's unrealistic to believe that our pensions are sustainable, we can expect zilch support from the public whose own pensions what little they had has been decimated. The goal posts are being moved for the whole working population not just nurses" - Nurse Nancy, Lancs

"In this case I think YES lets face it how else are they going to get the message?" - Elizabeth, Scotland

"Yes, most certainly!" - Anne-Marie Hogan, Liverpool

"I think as a nurse we should fight for what little we have left. I wonder if any of the politicians could manage on a nurse's wage with the cost of living so high and yet we still agreed to have our wages frozen. Try buying a house for instance; on a nurse's wage it is impossible. Mileage allowances have not changed with the cost of petrol, and yet the government cannot understand why the NHS have so many staff off sick due to stress, this surely cannot be cost effective" - Carole Rolland

"Most definitely; these people have contributed to their pensions throughout their working lives only to have the goal posts moved by incompetent politicians who do not have the common decency to come clean as to why they are using such underhand tactics when dealing with unions and keeping all in the dark as to there future pensions" - Colin Young, NW