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Warning over 'retire at 60' pension deal.

Byline: By John Deane

Major unions have warned the Government that it faces a serious clash if it fails to honour the recent "retire at 60" public sector pensions agreement.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said it would be "ludicrous" for the Government to use a report on the future of pension provision in the UK as a pretext for unpicking the deal.

Lord Turner of Ecchinswell is expected to recommend that the state retirement age be raised from 65 to 67 when his Pensions Commission unveils it long-awaited report on Wednesday.

That has prompted criticism from opposition politicians and business leaders that last month's public sector deal, negotiated by Trade Secretary Alan Johnson, would result in a two-tier workforce riven by resentments and tensions.

The Sunday Times said Chancellor Gordon Brown was concerned by that prospect, as well as the cost to the public purse of allowing civil servants to retire at 60, and would use the Turner report as justification for redrafting the deal.

It quoted a Treasury source as saying: "There's definitely a view that Turner can be used as an opportunity to reopen the debate. The unions should accept this and accept that they have to be part of that discussion."

Mr Barber reacted angrily to that suggestion, saying: "Industrial relations depend crucially on trusts. Agreements must be honoured. Unions accept their side of the bargain and we expect employers, including the Government, to do the same.

"It is ludicrous to suggest that the Turner report provides a basis for reopening the deal.

"Whoever in Government is spreading that message ought to be slapped down hard."

A spokesman for Unison, the country's biggest trade union, said: "We reached an agreement through the public services forum and we expect that agreement to be honoured."

The Treasury said the story was "wrong", insisting the agreement was signed up to by the whole Cabinet and no-one was "talking about ripping it upor blocking it". A spokesman added, however: "We must wait to read Lord Turner's report this week. If he does recommend any changes to the retirement age that will of course form part of the national debate on the long-term future of pension arrangements for all sectors of the economy.

"But it is important not to pre-judge the outcome of that debate."

Downing Street also sought to rebut the story. The Prime Minister's official spokesman, travelling with Mr Blair in Barcelona, said: "The Treasury has made it clear that it [the story] does not represent their position in terms of the deal. The deal is there."

Tory leadership front-runner David Cameron, the shadow education secretary, said the Chancellor had "thrown his toys out of the pram", and confirmed that he would order a review of the deal if he won power.

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Laws called for a commission to be set up to look into reforms of "increasingly expensive" public sector pensions
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 28, 2005
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