After deadlock in negotiations over public sector pension changes, the Policy Council went to the States recommending that the scheme changes be made that went back to its first proposals. This was an unprecedented move and there was considerable concern about what would happen should changes be forced through on public sector workers.
I seconded a successful amendment that extended the negotiation to the end of July 2015. Fortunately, whilst it took a bit longer than July to reach agreement, ASEO members as a whole (though not all unions) agreed to the changes.
It was evident that the final salary pension scheme was unsustainable and that moving to a career average scheme was still a very good deal, certainly compared to the private sector. My speech during the debate on the amendment is given below.
Sir, It’s a sad reflection of what has happened over the last 3 years that we are having this debate today. At some point an independent review must be undertaken into why it has been impossible to come to a resolution in over 3 years. Lessons need to be learnt and we need to consider how such negotiations are conducted in the future. This whole sorry saga makes no one look good. However, today, through this amendment it will be possible to finally bring things to an end and at the same time give hope that this can be done through mutual agreement.
Now, I have spent quite a bit of my professional life setting up and administering pension trusts and acting as a pension trustee. I therefore have a good understanding of the different types of schemes, their advantages and disadvantages to the employer and employee. I have therefore looked at the proposals put forward in some detail with that experience, considered them in terms of sustainability as well as in terms of whether it would affect our ability to recruit key workers.
Logically, rationally these proposals make sense. For new employees they make sense. Were we setting up a pension scheme from scratch they would probably make sense, at least more sense than a final salary scheme. I will say more on that front in general debate.
However, and this is a however in bold, capitals and underlined, it is not as simple as that. By making a decision today and without this amendment, we would be setting a dangerous precedent by forcing terms on our employees. We have been told that there have been changes made to the pension scheme over the years – but these have always been by agreement. That makes me uncomfortable.
Not only that, and whether or not the proposals are right, what does bother me is the affect that will have on morale which in some parts of the organisation is already low. The HSSD Board held a Meet and Greet session open to all staff last Friday. This was an open session where people could tell it how it is and they did. And I would like to take the opportunity here to thank all those who turned up and gave us their honest thoughts. Certainly, the impression given was that in parts of the organisation, morale was low. Now, whilst there are clearly reasons other than how the changes to the pension were being made that have contributed to that, it was specifically mentioned as an area of real concern.
And that concerns me. That is why I believe that we must give a final chance, once and for all, to reach a mediated agreement. At the same time I do not believe we should allow mediation to continue indefinitely. This has gone on long enough and the longer it goes on it costs the States of Guernsey and the taxpayer a lot of money. That is why mediation must be time limited.
We hear the employees’ side wants that. I want that. I’m pretty sure most, if not all of us in this Assembly want that. This amendment provides that opportunity.
I urge members to support this amendment.