Federation News: The Politics of Pensions

A series of essays exploring the politics of pensions.

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About the book

As the ConDem Coalition announces its priority programme of cuts, the Institute of Employment Rights and the General Federation of Trade Unions have together published a series of essays exploring the Politics of Pensions.

In an introductory Editorial, Carolyn Jones, Director of the Institute says: “The ConDem coalition is not the progressive outcome trade unionists would have liked. But the Coalition does not have a mandate for the programme of swingeing cuts in public services, pay and pensions proposed by the Conservatives in their pre-election statements”.

She goes on however to acknowledge that cuts are on the way, with the public sector in the eye of the storm. “The Coalition has already announced an independent Commission to ‘investigate the long term affordability of public sector pensions’. So it’s timely that this edition of Federation News – with articles by leading experts in pension provision – provides workers and trade unions with alternative arguments to help explode the myths surrounding the affordability and fairness of pension provision”.

In the opening article, Nigel Stanley of the TUC, takes up the themes of fairness and affordability. After a much needed sober analysis of pension provision across the public and private sector, Nigel rejects the notion of levelling pensions down, arguing instead for improved pension provision in the private sector and a reduction of the ever growing gap between boardroom benefits and those offered to frontline workers.

The article by Colin Meech at Unison, outlines a UNISON programme aimed at influencing how pension funds are used. Capital Stewardship promotes member representation on occupational pension schemes to ensure the £15 trillion worth of public sector investment funds are invested in ways that are accountable, responsible and secure. Pension fund members are increasingly both providers of capital and workers in companies which receive equity finance. By demanding a seat at the pensions table, that power can be used to reform corporate governance, expose excessive executive pay and prevent bad labour relations and poor environmental standards.

The next two articles highlight the benefits and weaknesses of defined benefit and defined contribution pension schemes. Bryan Freake at Unite the Union, begins by highlighting the benefits of maintaining defined benefit pensions schemes before explaining how such benefits are being undermined by employers, expecting workers to pay more and receive less. For those workers forced off defined benefit schemes and into defined contribution schemes, Bryn Davies (UPS) highlights some key negotiating points for consideration.

Ivan Walker’s (Thompsons Solicitors) article highlights examples of companies transferring company assets to the pension scheme as a way of generating profits which are then used to reduce the pension deficit. Intriguing!

Glyn Jenkins (Unison) then provides some initial thoughts on what he believes should form the terms of reference for the proposed Independent Pensions Commission. He exposes and discredits many of the more common myths spouted about pensions, offering bullet-point facts on costs and affordability before concluding with a call for a balanced debate and fair solutions.

Mark Serwotka at PCS rounds up the political debate by measuring the myths of cosy public sector jobs and gold-plated public sector pensions against the reality of intensification of work, pay freezes and job cuts. He warns against expecting public sector workers to pay for an economic crisis not of their making and points to mass demonstrations in Greece and Portugal as examples of resistance. Mark offers alternative policies to ease the national debt including a Tobin Tax and a well resourced HMRC to prevent tax evasion.

The final article by Tom Dubbs (US Law Attorney) brings good news in the battle to protect pension funds from corporate misconduct. The US government is supporting a case which would, for the first time, give overseas investors – including pension schemes – the right to sue American companies involved in fraudulent behaviour which threatens the pension funds of millions. Disappointingly, the UK government argued against this protection. A decision in the case is expected very shortly.


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