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NAPF Conference: strike threat over pensions

UK – The head of the main trade union body in the UK has issued a warning that workers are “prepared to take action” over pension scheme closures.

"I sense that staff will no longer meekly accept a cut in pension rights,” said Trades Union Congress secretary general Brendan Barber, speaking at the National Association of Pension Funds’ annual conference in Edinburgh.

“They understand that the pension is a part of their pay packet.” Unions, he said, would "always be willing to negotiate to save a pension scheme".

"But when there is no will by the employer to save a scheme, then unions are prepared to take action. We have already seen industrial action, more is currently threatened."

He told IPE: "I am not suggesting that there is an immediate strike possibility in a particular industry, people have to judge for themselves but what I was saying this is an issue on which workers increasingly are prepared to take tough action to try and defend pension arrangements."

Barber also said that workers were feeling "let down, betrayed and angry" at pension cuts. He also said there should be a partnership among workers, the government and employers.

But he acknowledged that the government had done much to help poorer pensioners, but no party would give a clear commitment to upgrade the state pension each year in line with earnings.

"I do not knock the pension credits," he said, "but many are not claiming what is theirs despite real efforts to reach them.”

Employers, he said, had "retreated" from their part of the bargain, although he conceded, some had not "followed the fashion" and understood the importance of pensions. But he was critical of company directors awarding themselves generous pensions while workers’ pensions were cut

Digby Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry CBI, agreed with this. But he said that "valiantly marching towards the seventies" was not a solution to the pension provision problem.

He called on the government to "bribe" low-wage workers and young workers to save for their pensions. Employers, in return, should see pension as an investment.

Workers should be "automatically" included in pension
Schemes, and they should opt out rather than opt in.

Jones told IPE the CBI was in favour of the Pension Protection Fund, although he was worried about its implementation.

"In principle the CBI is in favour but we are not in favour of the way it is going to be implemented because there is an incentive on good schemes to say 'if we constantly have to bare the brunt for the bad ones, why don't we actually move to another form of pension provision’.”

He also said he hoped the government made it clear the PPF would not be a guarantee.

"It is there to help but it is not there to guarantee and if pensioners think this is a guarantee than if there is not enough money in the life boat who is going to make the guarantee? I would say this is another one to which Gordon Brown would say 'not me'.

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