Healthcare workers split on final pensions offer as more unions announce ballot results

Authors: Helen Jaques 

Publication date:  11 May 2012

Midwives, physiotherapists, and NHS managers have all voted to accept the government’s final proposals for changes to the NHS pension scheme, but healthcare workers who are members of the union Unite have taken part in a second day of industrial action over the issue.

More than three quarters (78%) of members of the union Managers in Partnership voted to accept the government’s proposals versus 22% to reject, on a turnout of 22%.

Members of the Royal College of Midwives and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy have also accepted the government’s final offer by, respectively, 72% to 28% (20% turnout) and 68% to 32% (36% turnout).

NHS staff who are members of the union Unison held a closely fought vote last month in which 50.4% voted to reject the final proposals for reform of the NHS pension scheme and 49.5% to accept, on a turnout of 15%.

The low turnout, coupled with the close vote, shows that there is no mandate to endorse the pensions proposals but equally no mandate to take further industrial action, said head of health at the union, Christina McAnea.

Nevertheless up to 100 000 healthcare workers who are members of Unite—including radiologists, health visitors, and paramedics—took part in a day of industrial action yesterday in protest at the government’s reform of public sector pensions.

In a BMA survey held in February, 84% of doctors (response rate 36%) voted to reject the government’s final offer on the NHS pension, and almost two thirds (63%) said that they would personally be prepared to take industrial action to pursue changes to the proposals.

Next week the BMA will ballot its members on industrial action over reform of the NHS pension scheme. Should doctors vote in favour, the association could hold a day of industrial action in the second or third week of June.

Despite this opposition from public sector workers, the government signalled in the Queen’s speech this week its intention to proceed with public sector pension reform.

The new Public Service Pensions Bill would implement changes to public service pension provision set out in the final proposed agreements in March, including the introduction of a career average scheme and increasing the normal retirement age in line with the state pension age.

The bill will establish a “common framework” across public service pension schemes that would provide a clear common legal framework and scheme governance structure for the different sectors.

The Queen also announced a new bill to reform the state pension system that hinted at further rises in the state pension age beyond 68 to take into account increases in longevity.

The BMA has said that the government must urgently rethink the “damaging” plans to change the NHS pension scheme outlined in the Queen’s speech.

“The BMA is gravely concerned that ministers are still intent on pushing ahead with their unnecessary and unfair changes to the NHS pension scheme,” said Alan Robertson, chairman of the BMA’s Pension Committee. “There is real anger among hardworking doctors about the way they have been treated. The government must think again and reopen negotiations with the BMA so we can find a fair solution.”

  • Head to head: Are doctors justified in taking industrial action in defence of their pensions? BMJ 2012;344:e3242, doi:10.1136/bmj.e3242; 2012;344:e3175, doi:10.1136/bmj.e3175.

Helen Jaques news reporter BMJ Careers

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: