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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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Unions mount legal challenge to Government pension changes

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A new front will open up tomorrow in the ongoing battle over public sector pensions between unions and the Coalition Government when a judicial review hearing kicks off in the High Court.

The aim of the legal challenge, which has been mounted by the UK’s six largest public sector unions, is to question the lawfulness of a switch to using the consumer rather than the traditionally higher retail price index as the yardstick for annual increases in public sector pensions.
 
The unions are unhappy that the change, which was announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his June 2010 Budget and came into force in April this year, was introduced without any consultation or negotiation – a stance that they claim has been maintained since.
 
The unions also allege that the move was imposed on public servants as a means of trying to cut the deficit but was not permitted under current social security legislation. It also “reneges on assurances given by successive governments” that RPI rates would apply, they argue.
 
The unions involved in the action include Unison, Unite, the Public and Commercial Services and Fire Brigades’ Unions, the Prison Officers’ Association and teachers’ union, the NASUWT.
 
NASUWT’s general secretary Chris Keates said: “The question the court is being asked to answer is whether it is just and fair to arbitrarily change the basis on which pensions are calculated, reducing their value by thousands of pounds. The Government’s actions are a breach of the contract with ordinary working people.”
 
But Unite general secretary Len McCluskey claimed that the legal challenge was significant not just for public sector workers, but also for those in the private sector.
 
“Vested interests are trying to create a wedge between public and private sector workers when, in reality, they have common cause on this. We know that some private sector employers are already attempting to move to the lower inflation index, citing the Government’s example. In reality, this Government wants us all to work for longer and for less,” he said.
 
The unions are currently either in the process or have already balloted their members over taking industrial action or supporting a day of action over pension changes on Wednesday, 30 November.
 
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett
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