Unions say Ministers risk strikes by failing to listen over pensions

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Unions representing more than a million NHS workers have accused the Government of not listening to staff over “damaging” plans to increase pension contributions, which has sparked the prospect of strikes.

Following a meeting with Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, unions said the timetable for talks over the pensions of health staff was “unrealistic and undeliverable”.

The Minister was accused of making no attempt to change the pensions proposals, and unions warned that the NHS could see the biggest strike in its history.

Unions are balloting health and other public sector workers for strikes, with a one-day walkout being planned on November 30.

Rehana Azam, of the GMB, said: “The meeting with Andrew Lansley was all PR spin and no substance. The harsh reality is that he is simply not listening to staff fears about the future of their pension schemes.

“The Minister is ignoring the very strong arguments we made and turning his back on the anger and frustration felt by NHS staff. We want to make progress in the talks to head off strike action in the NHS, but the Minister must start listening and act quickly.”

Meanwhile, Unison said the Government’s planned changes were a “false economy” because the scheme saved £2.5bn every year in benefit claims.

The proposed changes would lead to “pensioner poverty” for millions pushing them on to benefits such as pension credit, council tax benefit and housing benefit, said Unison, which is balloting 1.1 million members for strike action.

General Secretary Dave Prentis said: “If Government Ministers push ahead with their plans to make council workers pay more and work longer for less, then many may be forced to opt out the scheme, pushing people on to costly benefits when they retire.”