SNP ministers accused of ‘hypocrisy’ for closing down final option not to enforce Treasury’s hike in contribution rates
UNISON officials say they are ‘disappointed’ that the SNP government in Scotland has closed down the last remaining options over a proposed increase in staff contributions to the NHS pension scheme north of the border.
It comes after a Labour MSP tried to trigger a debate on whether to enforce the higher payments – as demanded by the Treasury – which will see around half of NHS workers in Scotland paying up to 2.4% more towards their retirement.
(Pictured: NHS workers on strike last month over pensions changes)
Critics say the SNP decision exposes the ‘hypocrisy’ of the Scottish government on pensions.
Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon – who is currently involved in negotiations with UNISON over other changes to the pension scheme – said refusing to comply would remove “£5 million every single month from frontline services” and said the best way to safeguard NHS pensions is through an independent Scotland.
However, union officials say their members last year made savings across the health service well above the Scottish government’s targets and that SNP ministers had a choice not to enforce the pensions hike – but they have decided do to so anyway.
UNISON Scottish organiser, Dave Watson told UnionNews: “The Health Committee in the Scottish Parliament has a built-in SNP majority, so we weren’t expecting the motion to go through, but we still say the government has a choice.
“We agree that these pension changes are being driven by Westminster, but Scottish ministers could do something different on this contributions increase if they wanted to – and they have decided not to.
“We have to judge governments by what they do now, not about what they say they will do in the future.”
Labour MSP Drew Smith, whose motion triggered the debate, told UnionNews that allowing the contributions increase to go ahead this year will create an additional financial burden for NHS workers on top of a pay freeze and rising costs of living.
He said: “It was clearly an uncomfortable truth for SNP members of the Health Committee today, but NHS workers in Scotland will be paying more to get less from this month, as a result of a choice made by the SNP.”
A Labour colleague on the committee, Dr Richard Simpson said additional money could be found through a review of pensionable distinction awards, a bonus points scheme that boosts salaries by up to £25,632, or performance-related-pay.
However, Nicola Sturgeon said the surplus “is not available to the Scottish Government” as it goes straight back to the UK Treasury.
Drew Smith later withdrew his motion. However, UNISON says it will continue detailed negotiations with ministers on pensions.
Coalition ministers have indicated they intend to launch primary legislation in next month’s Queens’ Speech, which will attempt to cast in law a number of the changes – such as tying occupational retirement age to the state retirement age – which are part of the government’s wider attempt to cut the cost of public service pensions.
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