UK - German technology firm Siemens could face strike action by its British workers over plans to close its £2.5bn (€3.6bn) UK defined benefit (DB) scheme to all members.

A company spokeswoman told IPE today that the scheme's closure would affect around a third of its 20,000 strong UK workforce.

"Our final salary scheme has been closed to new entrants for some years, but we have about 6,000 workers who are on the final salary scheme," she said.

Britain's largest union, Unite, announced it was preparing to ballot its members on industrial action against the company. It argued that Siemens was profitable enough to be able to further afford the DB arrangement.

Siemens stressed the move was to ensure competitiveness and to secure future pensions.

"The proposals that we have put forward to our employees is moving the people that are currently on DB scheme onto an investor plan, like the rest of the employees," the spokeswoman said.

Siemens plans to pay off its £539m pension deficit, adding it also wants to pay off any future deficits as they occur.

"In addition, there is a generous matching offer for employees who switch over to the investor plan, which retains a link with their salary for the next 15 years," the spokeswoman told IPE. "So it is really very attractive plan."

Meanwhile, Watson Wyatt has published a study showing that even the days of two-tier company pensions, where final salary pension schemes were closed to all but senior executives, are largely over.

According to the research, some 70% of senior new hires at large UK companies are now offered a defined contribution (DC) pension.

John Ball, a senior consultant with the firm, commented: "Due in part to pressure from groups as diverse as the Association of British Insurers and the trades union, in most cases [two-tier company pensions are] no longer considered acceptable practice."