Unions leaders alarmed at threatened imposition of pensions changes in Scotland, midway through negotiations (Pictured: FBU lobby of Scottish govt, August 2011)

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Unions have reacted with anger and alarm to a threat to impose changes to the pensions of hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in Scotland without further consultation.

(Pictured: NHS staff striking in Ayrshire last month).

One teaching union accused the Coalition government of trying to ensure ‘equality of misery’ across the UK.

In a statement yesterday, the Finance Secretary in the SNP government, John Swinney said the UK Government intends to force through an automatic link between normal pension age and state pension age.

He said Westminster would also set the normal pension age for police officers and firefighters at 60.

This would cut across negotiations already taking place north of the border involving senior Scottish ministers and unions covering the police, fire, local government, NHS and teachers pensions schemes.

In recent weeks, the FBU had already made what it believed to be significant progress in negotiations over staff contribution rates and has presented what is described as ‘robust evidence’ for retaining the current retirement age of serving firefighters.

UnionNews understands senior FBU officials will meet later today to examine the impact of John Swinney’s statement.

(Pictured, lobby of Scottish government on pensions by FBU members, August 2011)

Union negotiators say they were not made aware of the exchange of letters between John Swinney and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander until yesterday.

The Treasury Secretary has been the leading face of the Coalition’s attack on public sector pensions since before the 30th November strike last year.

With the Treasury’s plans to finalise Heads of Agreement documents on all the public sector pension schemes now months behind schedule, the threat to impose changes on retirement age, staff contributions and the change of inflation-proofing from RPI to CPI is an indication of growing impatience among Coalition ministers at the pace of talks and the widening threat of further UK-wide industrial action.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT said: “Not content with plundering the pensions of public service workers across England and Wales, the Westminster Government is clearly intent on ensuring that there is equity of misery right across the UK.

“To their credit, ministers in Scotland had stated they would be disposed to as much positive variation of the Westminster Coalition’s plans for pension changes as possible and discussions with NASUWT and other unions had already started.

“It is now clear that they may not be given the option.”

The threat to impose pension changes comes little more than a fortnight after detailed talks began between UNISON and the SNP Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon over the NHS pension scheme in Scotland, which is funded from a different source to that of health workers in England.

Sources say these talks had been making genuine progress, despite being in their early stages.

In the case of health and teaching unions, negotiators only received the government’s proposed ‘cost ceilings’ on each scheme within the last few weeks.

Dave Moxham, assistant general secretary of the STUC told UnionNews they would continue to press for pensions talks to be given the widest possible scope.

He said: “Scottish unions are committed to pursuing constructive negotiations with the Scottish government and John Swinney has sought some important clarifications on the scope these negotiations may have.

“We await the response from Danny Alexander with interest.

“In any case, we remain of the view that through constructive negotiations, the SNP government has the capacity to mitigate the impact of UK pensions reform on Scottish workers if it chooses to do so.”

Said Chris Keates: “I fear that the proposed imposed change on the pension age is a sign of worse to come for the pensions of teachers and other public service workers in Scotland.”


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