Unions

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has just used his LGA conference speech to defend reforms to public sector pensions, arguing that his proposals are fair. He has suggested that people are being told “scare stories” about the government plans. (Here is the full transcript on the Downing St website and this is our news story).

Does he have a point?

The prime minister has claimed that there are rumours that the government is “closing defined benefit schemes and replacing them with defined contribution schemes”. He also claimed that people are being told that “we are stripping workers of the benefits they have already accumulated.”

This is not true, he points out. Not only will workers still have defined benefit schemes. They will also maintain the “final salary link” for benefits already accrued. “Any suggestion otherwise is completely untrue“.

But who is actually saying this? Anyone? Or has the PM created a paper tiger?

The scare stories are the fault of the unions, Cameron appears to suggest, without actually naming them: “they are giving really bad advice to teachers, nurses and the police officers who are wondering whether to continue with their pension.”

UPDATE: Apparently the PM is not blaming the unions per se, his aides claim. Instead this emanated from the fact that Cabinet Office has spoken to public sector staff, who say they are worried about losing such benefits. “We’re very keen to get the message across out there about what we’re really doing,” says one Downing St aide.

In fact the unions are angry about the following changes, which are not yet set in stone but are proposed by the government – as my colleague Brian Groom recently explained:

* Higher contributions to pensions that will have to be made, typically rising by 3.2 per Read more

Jim Pickard

Michael Gove told the Andrew Marr Show this morning that he wouldn’t comment on potential action by the government against the unions, saying he had no wish to “ratchet up the rhetoric” against the movement. Not least when negotiations are still going on.

That comment sits slightly uneasily against his letter to schools calling on them to keep schools open by using the “wider school community”, ie parents. Read more

Jim Pickard

Plenty of coverage around today of the Independent’s story about Miliband’s plans to “sever big money ties with unions”. I predicted a week ago that the Labour leader was planning a symbolic gesture to show that he was not in hoc to the union barons; perhaps this is it?

Yet the reaction to the Indie story has got ahead of itself in terms of what it all means. Read more

Jim Pickard

I revealed back in August that David Cameron wanted to invite Britain’s union leaders for a meeting, a surprising overture given the hostility between the two sides. The process has been complicated by the fact that the prime minister – unsurprisingly – did not want to give the brothers an excuse to publically snub him.

Yet the meeting has been scheduled for tomorrow. Patrick Hennessy at the Sunday Telegraph revealed this morning that a delegation of unnamed TUC officials is poised to go into Downing Street to meet Mr Cameron. Read more

Jim Pickard

Geoff Lewtas of the PCS union warned this morning that the chaos around the new “LEPs” being set up to replace RDAs could mean “hundreds of millions in euros” of development money lost.

The union official said that there were real concerns about the shambolic way that these “local enterprise partnerships” are being created, covering only parts of the country. Until now the RDAs were responsible for handling huge amounts of development money from Brussels:

“It will take some time before they are recognised by the EU as acceptable bodies to handle this (development aid), there could be hundreds of millions of euros in development money being held backand possibly not made available,” he warned.

“That seems to me a pretty dire consequence and a serious risk that doesn’t seem to have been taken into account.”

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Jim Pickard

The Miliband team aren’t desperately happy that Ed’s decision not to attend tomorrow’s TUC rally has been construed in some quarters (see my last blog) as a U-turn. They are claiming that the event isn’t even a rally anyway.

Ed proudly supports the rights of people to voice concerns and lobby Parliament, they tell me. “But there is no rally, people won’t be marching, it’s not placards and braziers.”

They are half right (yes it’s only an event at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster) and half wrong (it is still a self-styled ‘rally’). Read more

Jim Pickard

I was in the room at Manchester’s TUC conference when Ed Miliband was asked if he would attend the anti-cuts TUC rally tomorrow in London. “I’ll attend the rally, definitely,” he replied. As I wrote at the time it was a significant moment, not least because David Miliband sounded much more ambivalent. Their different replies may have made a difference in terms of crucial votes from union members.

Now Polly Curtis at the Guardian is reporting that Mili-E will not be there tomorrow; instead he will have some private chats with union officials. It’s a striking U-turn. Read more

Jim yesterday spotted the extraordinary number of spoiled ballots among the trade unions and affiliated organisations. More than 36,000 ballots were wasted — about 14.6 per cent of the votes cast in this section of the electoral college. The reason is that the voters simply failed to tick a box saying they supported Labour.

An absurd rule, I know. But did it make a difference? There was talk last night among some of the Ed Miliband camp suggesting this was an important factor. One aide claimed the campaign had managed to reduce the spoiled ballot rate in the unions backing their man. The ground campaign apparently handed out thousands of “how to vote” cards making clear that they vote wouldn’t count unless they ticked the box at the end. One Ed aide claimed the effort won them up to 6,000 extra votes. If true, it made a big difference to the result. Was it another Florida hanging-chad moment? Read more

Jim Pickard

The news is in; the first big trade union has put its backing behind Ed Miliband. The GMB. It’s an important endorsement and will feed the growing feeling that Mili-E could still win through with backing from the unions, grassroots and those vital second preferences. Read more

Jim Pickard

As Britain’s largest union Unite should have considerable influence over the leadership contest; unions make up a third of the total voting. Although unions don’t have single bloc votes they can tell members who they favour.

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Jim Pickard

Ministers have no qualms about standing up to the unions in the current climate, as you can see from the FT’s splash this morning about their attempts to slash redundancy terms for 500,000 civil servants. The coalition is trying to push through a move – initiated by Labour last year - to reduce the maximum pay-off from 6.5 years to 2. It was thwarted in May when the Public and Commercial Service Union won a judicial review against it.

But is the government prepared to go to war against the union movement? This is the implication from this morning’s Times front page – “Ministers in secret talks to toughen strike laws” – which claims that ministers could re-examine changing strike laws if imminent job losses lead to widespread industrial unrest.

I heard a similar rumour last week but was told the government had not changed its position since late June. Then, the CBI called for a change so that strikes could only happen if 40 per cent of the total workforce backed action – rather than, as present, a majority of those who voted. The business group was apparently slapped down by David Cameron, whose spokesman said there were “no plans to change strike legislation.”

Having “no plans” is not the same as ruling something out indefinitely, of course. Read more