BMA to seek urgent negotiations with the Government over pensions
The BMA will seek to urgently re-open negotiations with the Government on pensions, after surviving a motion claiming it had ‘failed as a trade union’ over the pensions issue at its Annual Representative Meeting in Edinburgh.
Delegates called for re-opened pensions negotiations with the Government in order to improve the current situation, agreeing that the changes in pensions will have ‘significant detrimental effects on recruitment and retention’. They also agreed that the BMA should ensure any future action on pensions should be supported by both primary and secondary care doctors.
However, BMA pensions committee chair Alan Robertson warned that the Government are ‘not going to want to negotiate again.’ Another option detailed in the motion - calling for the trade union to seek a judicial review over the Government’s pensions contribution changes in relation to younger and part time doctors - failed.
Members supported their union over the pensions fight, rejecting motions which said the BMA had failed as a trade union, and that the day of industrial action on 21 June 2012 - which Pulse exclusively revealed was undertaken by only one in four GPs - was ‘insufficiently strong and failed to achieve appropriate media coverage’.
Arguing that the BMA had failed in its core duty as a trade union, London consultant in emergency medicine Kevin O’Kane said in future doctors needed ‘further, harder, better industrial action’.
He said a trade union’s function was ‘maintaining or improving its members conditions of employment’. But he added: ‘We have clearly failed to do so. This motion does not seek to apportion personal blame, but recognises an institutional failure on all our parts.’
He called the BMA’s day of action ‘embarrassing’. He said: ‘Let’s fess up. Last day of industrial action was patchy at best, embarrassing at worse. We are the embarrassing position of being a trade union that cannot organise industrial action. A lion that cannot roar. Doctors are angry, let down, disappointed and significantly poorer than they were 12 months ago.’
However, former West Midlands GPC chair Dr Grant Ingrams said in his area the action was successful.
He said: ‘I contacted local journalists. BBC Midlands filmed in my practice. The reporting was fair, and patients and colleagues said they broadly supported the action. While it is possible to criticise anything with the retroscope, the BMA took the right stance.’
BMA chairman Mark Porter defended the union’s actions over pensions. He said the Government imposed the changes with no negotiation and that they were never accepted by the BMA, unlike unions such as Unison and the Royal College of Nursing who recommended the settlement to their members as the best that could be achieved.
He explained that while some members felt that the BMA should have fought harder, the impact on patients had to be considered.
He said: ‘I appreciate that some people felt it should have been more balanced towards having a heavier impact, but nevertheless, it was a group decision of all of us to try to limit the harm to patients.’
The BMA had a difficult communications task to defend £70,000 a year pensions to the general public, many of which will receive no income beyond the state pension after retirement.
He said: ‘Have to recognise a salient fact, in the current financial climate and recognising that many members of the public have poor pensions or no pensions at all other than the state pension, it was always going to be difficult to generate a hugely positive media coverage.’
‘One civil servant told us later ‘All we had to do was tell the newspapers that doctors were going on strike for publicly funded pensions of £70, 000 a year and that was job done.’
Motion in full
Motion to be proposed by the North West London Division: That this Meeting:
i.believes that the BMA has failed as a trade union in its role over pensions (lost);
ii.believes the BMA day of industrial action in June 2012 was insufficiently strong and failed to achieve appropriate media coverage (lost);
iii.believes the BMA should ensure that any future action on pensions should be supported by both primary and secondary care doctors (carried);
iv.believes the deterioration in NHS pensions for doctors will have significant detrimental effects on recruitment and retention (carried);
v.calls on the BMA to seek urgent negotiations with government to improve the current pensions’ situation (carried);
vi.calls on the BMA to seek a judicial review of the pension contribution changes in relation to younger and part time doctors (lost).