Unions representing health service workers at all levels are meeting this afternoon to discuss potential industrial action over changes to the NHS pension scheme.
The meeting at Unison’s offices in London has been called in response to fears ongoing pension talks with the government will not result in an agreement.
Representatives from the Royal College of nursing, Managers in Partnership and the British Medical Association will join counterparts from Unite and GMB to talk about the legal issues surrounding a coordinated walk out and the provision of emergency cover for patients.
A spokeswoman for Unison said it was “unprecedented” for all the unions to come together in this way and although they were “hoping for the best” from the pension talks, it was important to “plan for the worst”.
Disagreement is centred around the level of future contributions, the retirement age and the structure of public sector pension schemes, such as whether they should continue to offer “final salary” pensions.
RCN head of employment relations Josie Irwin played down the risk of industrial action but said it was “sensible” to be thinking about what would happen if negotiations broke down.
“That might mean one or all of the unions balloting for action and in that instance from the RCN’s perspective patient care is of the utmost importance. We need to think through these issues just in case,” she added.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the NHS pension would remain one of the best available and pensions people have already earned would be protected.
He added: “The proposals we are consulting on will protect the lowest paid in the NHS. Those earning less than £15,000 will pay nothing extra towards their pensions and a nurse earning £25,000 a year would pay £10 more a month in 2012-13.
“The pension individuals receive at normal pension age would be broadly as generous for low and middle income earners as it is now. Constructive talks on pensions are still ongoing. It would be very wrong to make assumptions about their outcome.”