Government’s new collective defined contribution pension scheme could help some public service workers, but shouldn’t erode the pensions of others

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UNISON is urging caution after this week’s announcement by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that it is launching a new UK pension model.

The UK government seeks to introduce collective defined contribution schemes as an alternative to the UK’s current two primary pension scheme models – defined contribution and defined benefit.

The new scheme is a result of the Pensions Schemes Act that was passed in 2021.

UNISON sees defined benefit schemes as vital in providing decent pensions for many public service workers. However, millions of public service workers – including UNISON members – are not eligible to join such schemes and are dependent on defined contributions schemes instead.

The union has negotiated with employers in these sectors and has successfully brought about a number of relatively high-quality defined contributions schemes for members in recent years.

UNISON head of pensions Glyn Jenkins said that caution was needed when employers consider any changes to existing pension arrangements. “These new pension arrangements must not erode current provision,” he commented.

“UNISON supports improving member outcomes through the introduction of collective defined contribution for members in defined contribution schemes, but the new schemes should not be used to replace viable defined benefit schemes.”

Mr Jenkins pointed out that, on the basis of the union’s experience, many defined contribution schemes will not provide an adequate income for their members.

This is for a number of reasons, including, “woefully inadequate levels of contributions – especially from the employers – and charges on investments.”

He continued: “Collective defined contribution schemes should improve the position for members in defined contributions schemes. Even though such schemes do not guarantee benefit levels, they do set a target benefit level that may be reached.”

Aug 4, 2022


Crisis of unimaginable proportions ahead unless ministers do more

Responding to Ofgem’s confirmation today (Thursday) that the energy price cap will be updated more frequently, UNISON head of energy Matt Lay said:

“The government must stop pretending it’s done enough. Support for consumers has so far been pitiful. Other European governments have been both swifter and bolder to lessen the blows from big bills.

“All but the richest consumers face a terrifying prospect this winter. Many simply don’t have the means to pay. Swift and radical government action is needed to cap the horrific price hikes predicted. Otherwise, there will be a crisis of unimaginable proportions.”

Notes to editors: 
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts: 
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: 
Fatima Ayad M: 07908 377215 E:

Aug 4, 2022


Council and school workers are enduring a major cost of living crisis.

The three unions representing council and school staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have today (Monday) reacted to the £1,925 flat rate pay offer from the local government employers:

UNISON head of education and local government Mike Short said: “Council and school workers are enduring a major cost of living crisis, with inflation running at over 11%. This offer is better than employees might have expected, given the low pay rises of recent years.

“It shows local government employers are beginning to understand the financial nightmare school and council staff are living through. But it’s not enough to make up for a decade and more of lost wages.”

GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “Local government and schools workers kept our vital institutions running during the pandemic. Now, like everyone else, they’re being pushed to the brink by the cost-of-living crisis.

“Whilst real terms pay cuts risk exacerbating the staffing crisis, we recognise this is an offer that warrants further scrutiny so we can assess its impact on our members. GMB will now meet with reps and members to discuss the next steps.”

Unite acting national officer Clare Keogh said: “Council workers have already suffered over a decade of below-inflation wage rises and this is another pay cut dressed up as a pay increase.

“The cost-of-living crisis is hitting council workers hard, many already can’t afford to make ends meet, spiralling food costs and energy bills will more than swallow the pay offer being proposed.”

Back in June, UNISON, GMB and Unite submitted a joint claim calling for a pay boost of at least £2,000 for all council and school staff. Unions will now consult with their members over the offer.

Notes to editors:
– The unions’ 2022 claim, which applies from 1 April 2022, would see council and school employees receive either a £2,000 rise or the current rate of RPI (presently 11.8%), whichever is higher. The three unions say ?staff working in local government have seen an average of 27.5% wiped from the value of their pay since 2010.
-The one-year offer from the Local Government Association would see wage increases of between 4% for senior council and school staff, and 10.5% for those on the lowest grades.

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Aug 2, 2022


Christina McAnea also tells NEC meeting that the spectacle of the Tory Party leadership candidates trying to ‘out-tough’ each other is ‘unedifying’

Front of the UNISON group on the TUC demo June 2022

General secretary Christina McAnea reiterated the need for UNISON branches to be “strike ready” when she addressed today’s meeting of the union’s national executive council (NEC).

Rearranged from last week, after being postponed due to the heat emergency, this was the first meeting of the council after June’s national delegate conference (NDC) and was chaired by the new president, Andrea Egan.

Ms McAnea looked back to conference and to the TUC demo in London that came at the end of the union’s week in Brighton (pictured).

It had been a big ask, she said, coming as it did the day after NDC closed. Yet, “as ever, UNISON was the biggest grouping”, she noted.

Since NDC, where she had spoken of “the dying days of an out-of-touch government”, she had been watching the imploding of the Conservative Party, and the race among leadership candidates “to go as far right as possible”.

Of the final two candidates, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, they were “both trying to out-tough each other” with “ludicrous” promises. Describing the spectacle as “unedifying”, Ms McAnea said that she had “called for a general election”.

After outlining the situation across service groups in terms of ongoing disputes and pay campaigns, the general secretary offered “huge congratulations to our UNISON communications team who have just won two TUC comms awards.”

In terms of upcoming work, Ms McAnea reported that there would be a national lobby of Parliament, and a rally in Westminster on 19 October as part of campaigning around the cost of living crisis.

That would also involve coordinated local campaign activity in constituencies across the country on the same day, town hall meetings and rallies, media activity and policy interventions ahead of the autumn budget.

The meeting also heard of the successful legal case that UNISON had taken to see long COVID classed as a disability, and it was stressed that the union should promote this more to branches and activists, to help them tackle employers who are refusing to treat it as such.

The meeting also applauded UNISON’s involvement in the recent Supreme Court case on holiday pay for term-time workers, and offered “congratulations to our superb legal department”.

There was a lengthy discussion of balloting and the use of phone banking in building turnout to ensure votes succeed in passing thresholds.

The council heard that UNISON is looking at ways of making phone banking easier and better, as well as exploring peer-to-peer texting.

The meeting also:

  • agreed a message of solidarity to Barnet workers who are in dispute;
  • heard about the work the union is doing around the government’s Rwanda deportation scheme;
  • agreed to hold a seminar on the cost of living crisis;
  • gave thanks to assistant general secretary Stephanie Thomas, who is retiring later this summer;
  • discussed the problems faced by low mileage rates, hearing that the union is doing lots of work in the background, including targeting some Conservative MPs on the subject, and has also issued new guidance on the subject.

Aug 2, 2022

This is nowhere ?near what’s needed to save the NHS.

Health unions representing more than a million NHS staff in England have ?reacted with dismay to the NHS pay rise of £1,400 announced today (Tuesday) by the government.

UNISON head of health and chair of the ?NHS group of unions Sara Gorton said: “This is nowhere ?near what’s needed to save the NHS.

“Demoralised ?and depleted health workers needed to know that ministers are serious about solving the staffing crisis and investing in the future. The way to do that was through a significant pay award.

“With the pandemic barely behind us and the growing cost-of-living catastrophe, NHS staff, their bank accounts ?and health services are all running on empty.

“The government’s shown it’s prepared to sit by and watch waiting lists grow, ambulance call times ?lengthen and patient suffering increase.

“Many will be seriously considering industrial action after this pitiful increase and a majority of the public will be behind them.

?”Ministers can’t continue to allow wages to fall and expect staff still ?to be there. The simple formula for recruiting and retaining enough staff to tackle the treatment backlog ?and avoiding a damaging dispute is to ensure NHS workers have a decent pay rise. ?This isn’t it.”

Assistant director at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and secretary of the ?NHS group of unions Elaine Sparkes said: “NHS workers have made it clear that a pay award like this is nowhere near enough in the current climate, being substantially less than the current and predicted level of inflation.

“We’ve told the government that – as have tens of thousands of people who took to the streets last month demanding a fair deal for workers.

“But still it presses on with an award that will cut the real value of take home pay for ?health staff and potentially put patient care at risk as the workforce crisis in the NHS deepens.

“Health unions will now consult members on what action they wish to take to ensure the extraordinary efforts of NHS staff are fairly rewarded.”

Notes to editors:
– The 13 NHS unions are: British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, Royal College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Managers in Partnership, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Society of Radiographers, UNISON and Unite.
– Health workers were due a pay rise on 1 April 2022 after their previous one-year deal expired. This award is for NHS staff in England.
– The health unions had called for an above-inflation pay rise in their submission to the NHS pay review body. The government had proposed a 3% increase.
– All NHS staff on Agenda for Change contracts (NHS terms and conditions) in England will get a consolidated pay rise of £1,400. This package amounts to a 4.75% increase to the NHS Agenda For Change pay bill.

Jul 21, 2022


Supreme Court judgment guarantees minimum paid annual leave

All workers in the UK will now receive the same minimum level of paid annual holiday leave, regardless of how many hours they work, following a landmark legal judgment by the Supreme Court today (Wednesday).  

The case, Harpur Trust v Brazel & UNISON, was taken by music teacher Lesley Brazel. She argued her employer was wrong to give her fewer days of annual leave than the legal minimum because she only worked during the school term.

UNISON got involved in the Brazel case because of its implications for thousands of school staff employed on term-time only contracts. The situation had previously been confused because of the absence of any government guidance on their holiday rights, says UNISON. 

Thanks to the judgment, it will no longer be possible for employers to argue staff who don’t work all year are only entitled to holiday based on the hours they work. Today’s decision is also good news for anyone working irregular hours or on zero-hours contracts, says the union. 

From now on, all workers will be due the same legal minimum of 5.6 weeks (28 days for full-time employees), even if there are months during the year when they don’t work. The Supreme Court judgment upholds a previous decision taken by the Court of Appeal in 2019. 

Commenting on the judgment, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said:  “This important decision means that anyone, no matter when or how they work, will now be due the same legal minimum of annual holiday.  

“Teaching assistants or other education employees might only be contracted to work when schools are open, but they’re also sometimes required to do their jobs at other times.  

“Today’s decision clarifies the law and says that annual leave taken by someone who works less than a full year can no longer be pro-rated to that of a colleague employed all year round.  

“The government’s failure to provide guidance in this area has left workers in limbo with unscrupulous employers all too keen to take advantage. Once again this shows unions as a force for good and yet another example of how they strive to improve the lives of working people everywhere.” 

Notes to editors: 
-The Supreme Court judgment ensures leave must be paid at the rate of an ordinary week’s wages (or if pay varies every week, then an average of all the weeks worked in a year). Annual leave calculations are based on weeks, as a person can work a full week or part of one. The law says that someone working a full year is entitled to at least 5.6 weeks of annual leave (28 days for anyone working full-time hours in a week and this can include the eight bank holidays). The judgment means that an employee working all year, but say, for just two days a week is entitled to 11.2 days a year (2 x 5.6 weeks, so 2.24 weeks or 11.2 days). 
-UNISON intervened in the case in 2018, ahead of a hearing at the Court of Appeal the following year. The case had previously been through an employment tribunal and employment appeal tribunal. The Harpur Trust applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal. UNISON successfully led the arguments at the Court of Appeal that all workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks of annual leave under statute, and this should be paid at the rate of an ordinary week’s pay. The Supreme Court has now upheld this decision and its judgment is here
-UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Jul 21, 2022


Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the care sector will do.

Responding to a new report by Skills for Care on the size and structure of the social care workforce, UNISON social care lead Gavin Edwards said today (Wednesday):

“The scale of vacancies is alarming, and not just for those who rely on care and their families. The sorry state of social care is having a disastrous effect on the NHS, causing massive treatment waits, letting down patients and putting unbearable pressure on health staff.

“The care sector is acutely underfunded. Wages are way too low leaving staff unable to cope with the rising cost of living.  

“Supermarkets are paying better rates without the stress, so it’s no surprise that people are jumping ship.

“Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the care sector will do. The government must act or vulnerable people won’t get the care they need and deserve, and the NHS will be on its knees.”

Jul 21, 2022

'Staff with long COVID need reasonable adjustments and support, not to be put on the scrap heap'

In a landmark legal case for sufferers of long COVID, an employment tribunal recently ruled that the symptoms brought about by the condition may be classed as a disability.

Terence Burke brought claims of disability discrimination and  unfair dismissal after being sacked from his job as a caretaker in 2021. He had worked in the role since 2001, but had been unable to attend work for nine months after suffering substantial and long-term effects from COVID-19 after contracting the virus in November 2020.

The tribunal considered and decided at a preliminary hearing that Mr Burke’s symptoms during this time amounted to a disability within the definition of the Equality Act 2010. The Tribunal gave Mr Burke permission to proceed with his claim of disability discrimination against his former employer.

The judgement referenced a TUC report from June 2021 about workers’ experience of long COVID, and supported what the claimant said about the recurrence of the symptoms.

The judgement also noted that occupational health evidence had been unhelpful for the claimant, highlighting a challenge for UNISON members and representatives who are facing similar problems.

Employment Tribunal decisions are not binding, but they are persuasive, and may still be used by negotiators to point to employers the direction a tribunal might take in similar circumstances.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “I welcome this employment tribunal decision, which shows that the symptoms of long COVID can amount to a disability.

“It’s important that employers consider this decision and provide reasonable adjustments and support to their staff with long COVID.

UNISON has updated its guidance on how to support members with long COVID.

UNISON national officer Deirdre Costigan said: “UNISON’s updated guidance explains this important case, which gives our reps more tools in their toolbox when representing members with long COVID in the workplace. It highlights the importance of looking at the individual circumstances of each case when arguing the member is disabled due to the impact of long COVID.” 

Jul 13, 2022

Latest pay offer for college staff is ‘simply not enough’

UNISON’s FE committee will recommend that members reject the offer, when colleges reopen in September

UNISON’s national further education committee is to recommend that members reject the latest pay offer from the employers’ organisation, which they feel is “simply not enough” to address the cost of living crisis and the problems caused by over a decade of stagnant pay growth.

Members will be consulted in September, when colleges reopen.

The pay negotiations for 2022/23 with the Association of Colleges (AoC) concluded last week. There had been some movement from the offer made in May, with employers now recommending 2.5% across the board, a further £500 unconsolidated in line with local affordability and £750 unconsolidated for those earning under £25,000.

There were also improvements to the claim for all colleges to become Living Wage Foundation accredited employers, with the AoC recommending that all colleges pay the real living wage as a minimum or publish their plans to do so.

However, the offer continues to fall far short of the claim the FE unions jointly submitted in March, for a pay rise of 10% on all points, with a minimum uplift of £2,000.

The FE committee is also concerned that the offer is unconsolidated, and that many low-paid workers will be no better off since the ‘bonus’ will be clawed back through the Universal Credit taper.

Ruth Smith, UNISON’s senior national officer for education and children’s services, commented: “The rise in the cost of living this year has been extreme, with inflation at a 30-year high. This is deeply challenging for our members in further education colleges, who are having to make decisions between eating and paying the rent.

“The rise in energy and fuel prices has led to members struggling to afford to travel to work, and trying to manage without heat, light and fuel in their homes. And some staff have to take second jobs to be able to pay their bills.”

She added: “Our members have suffered sub-inflationary pay rises for many years now, and the voluntary nature of national pay bargaining means that even when an increase is agreed, not all colleges pay it to staff.

“Enough is enough. We have come to a point where members really can’t manage on what they are being paid. It is time for the colleges and the government to realise that staff need to be paid enough to be able to live, without hardship and without poverty.”

Jun 28, 2022


Grants of up to £70 per school age child are now available

Mother holding two children under five

UNISON is offering financial support to cover the costs of school clothing to members who are experiencing financial difficulties, due to COVID-19, the cost of living crisis or other circumstances.

Grants of up to £70 per school-age child are available. Only one application can be accepted per household.

UNISON head of welfare Abi Coombs said: “We are acutely aware of the increased financial pressures our members are facing due the cost of living crisis. UNISON There for You are pleased to be launching this fund, offering eligible members grants of £70 per child to help towards the cost of school clothing.”

Am I eligible? 

To be eligible, you must meet the following: 

  • You are a member for at least four weeks and have paid four weeks’ subscriptions before 24 June 2022;
  • You are financially responsible for the child/children and receiving Child Benefit for them;
  • You (and your partner if applicable) have savings/rolling bank balance(s) of no more than £1,000. 

And either:

  • Your household has a net income of less than £26,000 per annum, or
  • You are in receipt of Universal Credit, Housing Benefit, or Tax Credit payments.

Further information and the application link is available on UNISON’s financial assistance page.

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Jun 28, 2022
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