'Defend our pensions'

Unite delegate Bridie McCreesh calls on TUC conference to fight back against attacks on pensions

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Unite delegate Bridie McCreesh seconded a motion on pensions and auto-enrolment reforms on the first day of TUC conference on Tuesday (October 18).

Addressing conference, Bridie hailed the fact that motions on pensions were at the top of the TUC agenda “because they are a neglected part of the cost of living crisis”.

Bridie explained that the motion seeks to right a wrong – to, as she said, “close the growing ‘deferred pay gap’ which excludes 4.8 million low-income workers from even the basic pension provision of auto enrolment”.

“As ever, this is a story of employers not paying their way. And it is a fight that impacts us all,” she added.

Bridie went on to say how even those who have company pension schemes are seeing them hollowed out, with a huge majority of employers whittling down contributions to less than 4 per cent.

But she added that despite the challenges, union members are fighting back, citing the example of workers at Dundee University.

“After defeating the employer’s attempt to abolish their Defined Contribution scheme last year, the bosses came back for another go – this time to impose a drop of £5,700 per year in deferred pay,” Bridie explained.

“The response? Over 8 weeks of strike action and counting – with picket lines continuing to hold firm,” she added. “That is the strength of feeling, the grit and the industrial ambition we need to defend our pensions.”

Bridie hailed what she called “Unite’s new direction” under Unite general secretary Sharon Graham, with an “unapologetic focus on defending and advancing ‘jobs, pay and conditions’,” that has aimed to “turn the tide on pensions as a bargaining issue”.

“Our new Combines are bringing workers together across our industrial sectors to set the benchmarks – to agree what we consider to be union-recognised terms and conditions,” Bridie went on to say. “That includes pensions.”

Bridie noted that this must mean saving – or even reopening — defined benefit pension schemes.

“For too long any and all discussions of pensions are limited to the big funds – those multi-billion pound giant investors in the background of our economy,” she said. “But Congress, there was a time when pensions were understood to represent something very different – social responsibility.”

“Through the power of collective bargaining employers were forced to recognise their responsibility and forced to see pensions for what they are: deferred pay,” Bridie added.

Calling on conference to support the motion, she hailed the motion for “linking those who are fighting to defend what they have earnt with those who deserve to be protected”.

The motion was carried.

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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