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Unions threaten co-ordinated industrial action over pensions

A coalition of health unions, including the BMA, has announced it will consider coordinated, NHS-wide industrial action if talks break down with the Government over its planned pension reforms.

The unions met yesterday at a summit hosted by Unison to discuss ‘possible industrial action in the NHS', and revealed they were setting up a dedicated Pension Campaign Group.

In a joint statement, the group warned the Government against issuing ‘unrealistic ultimatums' on pensions and said it would consider industrial action if talks ‘fail to make progress'.

The move confirms threats revealed by Pulse in July by some health unions that the Government's pension reforms could provide coordinated industrial action across the NHS.

The unions insisted they remained ‘committed' to negotiating with the Government. The written agenda for yesterday's meeting included discussion of ‘legal issues' and contingency plans for ‘emergency cover', suggesting strike action is under consideration but sources involved in the talks insisted mass walkouts are seen as 'a last resort'. 

The BMA warned earlier this month that the Government was showing ‘no desire to talk' in the opening days of formal negotiations with health unions over the NHS Pension Scheme, with ministers insisting on imposing the proposed six-percentage-point hike in GP contributions in full.

In a statement released yesterday, the Pension Campaign Group said: ‘The unions remain committed to pension negotiations and expects the Government to reciprocate and not set out unrealistic timetables or ultimatums.'

‘One of the clear aims of the Campaign group is to ensure that patient safety remains paramount. The group will look at all issues relating to the pensions negotiations, including the possibility of industrial action, in the event the talks fail to make progress.'

The BMA has called on every GP to use a DH consultation on pension contributions to vent their anger about the coalition's pensions plans. The DH consultation is technically restricted to discussions about how the pensions hike should be implemented, but the BMA is urging doctors to ignore the consultation boundaries.

The DH said ‘constructive talks' were ongoing with DH officials and unions are ongoing, but sources involved in these negotiations told Pulse that the high-level talks have made ‘little progress' so far and said the Government is looking to ‘railroad' unions into accepting the pension reforms while giving ‘the illusion of consulting' on them.

A DH spokesperson said: ‘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.'