Off The Rails readers may be aware of the legislation coming into force this April that ends the contracting-out of the Second State Pension, resulting in higher National Insurance contributions for both employees (a 1.4% increase) and employers (3.4%). The Tory government has also passed some legislation to help employers out with this - by allowing them to carry out annual raids on occupational pensions schemes, without even having to consult with scheme trustees.
With all the industrial muscle we rail workers have, you might think our unions would mount a robust defence against any attempts by industry employers to use the new legislation to attack our pension rights... but it seems that if you work in one of the 23 Train Operating Companies that make up ATOC, you'd be wrong. All four rail unions (Aslef, RMT, TSSA and Unite) have voluntarily entered into a deal affecting almost all members of the Railways Pensions Scheme who were employed after 4 November 1993.
We're still working out the details, but this "deal" worsens our pension rights in two main ways:
So our retirements have now been pushed 2 years further away from us (unless we are prepared to accept a reduction) and our pensionable pay is no longer linked to our final salary at the point of retirement but is based on "career average" earnings.
The thinking behind this is apparently that it 'protects' all staff across the industry from having the pensions plundered annually by employers, whereas if the issue was dealt with on an employer-by-employer basis some employers would agree to comparatively reasonable settlements - like Eurostar, who have absorbed the 3.4% increase while staff will have to foot the bill for their 1.4% - workers at some TOCs would lose far more than this.
It appears that the leaderships of the unions have looked at the graveness of the situation and bottled on the fightback, and are so scared of the consequences of referring this "deal" back to their members that they have decided not to risk it.
It is not inherently wrong to, as the phrase goes, "pick your battles" (although Off The Rails strongly believes this is a battle we should "pick"!). It is, however, outrageous to take such a hugely important decision such as this one out of the hands of the people it affects.
FIGHT THE PENSIONS SELLOUT!