UK – UK utility operator Centrica is facing a union vote over plans to close its defined benefit pension scheme to new entrants.

The GMB union is to ballot its 5,500 members working as British Gas engineers over the company’s plan to close the Centrica Final Salary Pension scheme to new starters from April 2006.

The result of the ballot will be known on November 25 – with any industrial action beginning in December.

The GMB said its members are “opposed to the company's plans to disadvantage future British Gas Engineers and that there is a wish to take action to protect their new colleagues pensions rights”.

GMB expects that the next valuation will show the scheme to be virtually fully funded and completely viable. Only two years ago the members and Centrica agreed to increase employee contributions by 1% in order to keep the scheme open.

“I doubt that GMB members will be up for selling off the pension rights of future British Gas Engineers and are ready to take industrial action to secure the scheme for everyone for the future,” said GMB national secretary Brian Strutton.

"Keeping in mind that the weather forecasters are saying that the winter is going to be extremely cold then we need to get this sorted out soon."

“This proposed change has no impact on current employees as the company is committed to the long term continuation of the engineers' final salary scheme for existing members,” Centrica said in a statement – adding the move would bring the scheme in line with the rest of the group.

It said: “The action is necessary to protect the long-term future of the fund for both existing and new members.”

The new DB career-average arrangement will be called the Centrica Engineers Retirement Income Section, or CERIS. It said the new scheme would rank “among the best occupational schemes in the market”.