Unions are unlocking the door to proper pensions

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Today I’ll be a delegate and tonight I’ll be chairing a meeting at the TUC conference.  It’s actually a fringe meeting which means anyone can come along – you don’t have to be a delegate. Below are the details if you happen to be in Manchester after work!

If you’d like to come to the meeting – why not drop me a line on henry.h.tapper@firstactuarial.co.uk so we can say hello before or after.

(PS – you can go incognito if you prefer – no dress code and no-one on the door – just rock up!)

Your invite

As the TUC celebrates its 150th year, we consider how the need for a wage in retirement remains vitally important, by looking at past and current highs and lows, and at how trade unions can achieve real dignity for their members in the future.

“People Still Want Pensions”

Monday 10th September, 2018

17.45 – 18.45

Venue: Lancaster Suite, The Midland Hotel, 16 Peter Street, M60 2DS

Refreshments provided from 17.30

CHAIR; Henry Tapper , First Actuarial.


Catherine Lockyer, Partner, First Actuarial

A (very) brief history of pensions since 1868. Concluding that the need for working people to take control of their pensions is greater now than it ever was, and the need to protect the rights of working people to a wage in retirement is just as vital. How can we do this?

Alasdair McDiarmid, Operations Director, Community

Lessons learnt from the recent British Steel Pensions scandal. What happened and why?

Terry Pullinger, Deputy General Secretary (Postal), CWU.

The future for Royal Mail pension provision. The opportunities provided by Collective Defined Contribution (“CDC”) pension provision, in the context of the Royal Mail story. Where could this take us? Who needs to buy in?

I do hope you can join us for what promises to be a lively session.

 Why unions unlock the door

When I worked for Eagle Star I joined the staff union (ESSU) which is now part of UNITE. The Union helped me with a dispute I had with my employer (a rich person’s problem). It didn’t make any difference to the union that I was in management, unions treat everyone as people.

That’s one reason why unions can unlock the door.

I have recently seen two recent examples of unions constructively engaging on pensions.


Sally Hunt (who is now President of the TUC) led the University College Union to strike against the proposals to offer university teachers a defined contribution scheme. The debate has moved on since now with the establishment of a joint working committee to properly understand the valuation of the University Superannuation and find a long term solution to the supposed problems of scheme funding. To get a flavour of the authority Sally Hunt and the UCU brought to bear – you can watch her  address to the conference yesterday – here.

The UCU have negotiated on behalf of their members so effectively that the terms of engagement have moved. There is now no question of USS being anything but a collective pension- what is in question is the level of guarantees offered going forward.

I know a fair few students (my son among them) who have lost a lot of teaching. I know no students who have not engaged with and understood the pensions debate. If you want to engage young people in pensions, then talk to the UCU.


The second example is the work of the CWU and in particular Terry, in helping to resolve the potential dispute at Royal Mail. I’ll have the privilege of speaking with Terry tonight. Terry talks and thinks like a business person, which is why he is able to negotiate with John Millidge of Royal Mail so effectively, but Terry is also to speak with his members – Royal Mail staff, just as effectively.

As the Government’s Work and Pensions Select Committee recognised, the solution that CWU proposed (and Royal Mail have accepted) is a model of good industrial dispute resolution. The solution is of course CDC and the recent announcement from the Pensions Minister of his intention to include outstanding primary regulations to parliament – laid out in the Queens Speech 2019, is largely down to Terry and his team.

Bigger picture stuff

Although I’m a member of the Conservative Party, I am a unionist, I believe in collective bargaining and the work unions continue to do, making sure we have conditions at work appropriate for a great nation. I am pleased that we have unions to take up the strain when European working rights legislation falls away.

I am pleased that we have unions reminding us of the importance of collective pension schemes and support the work of Prospect and others in protecting members against the financial calamity that can follow transferring out of a Defined Benefit pension scheme.

I admire the tenacious work of Colin Meech of Unison in exposing the true charges paid by LGPS for their funds and the measures they have supported to make pension funds more transparent. I see signs that that work will filter down to the retail space through the adaption of the LGPS funds template for the funds that you and I invest in.

Adapting to change

When I left college in 1983, many thought the Unions were on the way out. The Miner’s Strike shifted the balance in industrial relations to a point where many asked whether the “pie and a pint” negotiations of the Wilson years, were relevant to a modern Britain.

35 years on and unions are still there and they are more relevant than they seemed to me starting my working career.

Unions have adapted to change. Membership has fallen but the pride of unions is undiminished. I spoke at an Accord conference earlier this year and was knocked out by the enthusiasm and the determination of delegates to work with Lloyds and other banks to make financial services better. The standard of debate and the engagement with the banking industry’s issues impressed me. Jed Nicholls , the General Secretary is another towering leader who has brought his union and the employers his members work for, into mutual respect.

So I’m in Manchester today, as someone grateful to have unions as clients (First Actuarial work with many unions) but also as a private individual benefiting from the work they do.

I was at the TUC’s Pension Conference earlier in the year  and heard the Pensions Minister say the same thing. At the time I was sceptical I meant it – but recent events suggest I may be wrong!

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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