Anglian and United Utilities clash with unions over pension closure deals

Three trade unions have accused Anglian Water of trying to provoke a strike after the water company dismissed the unions as “posturing” and having no evidence in a spat over its closure of its final salary pension scheme to be replaced by a defined contribution scheme. Meanwhile one union, Unison, has called for industrial action next week at United Utilities.

Trade unions GMB, Unite and Unison claimed Anglian rejected their proposal of talks at the conciliation service, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) over the pension closure. Anglian said: “There is no reason to go to ACAS while the unions refuse to be open about what support there is for their position, if any.”

Unison said it has called a strike of its members at United Utilities for on Friday 16 March and Monday 19 March.

The strike had been called, Unison said, "due to a United Utilities management plan to impose changes to a staff pension scheme from April 1st. The changes will reduce scheme members’ pensions significantly, with younger members of staff due to lose as much as £10,000 per year of their guaranteed income in retirement."

Anglian said it had polled more than 2,000 employees on its new pension scheme which it described as “a fair package for all that is widely understood and accepted by our staff.” It added: “We know the vast majority of our employees support our changes because 3,500 of them have already signed up to accept or make changes to their new flexible pension and benefits package.” Meanwhile the unions claimed “a ballot to reject the proposal by members has already taken place.”

The company has brushed away the validity of the union’s poll: “We simply do not believe the unions have support for their position. They’ve refused to share turnout numbers, and emails canvassing opinion have not even given employees the option to accept the generous deal we’ve put on the table. Their posturing is wholly unrepresentative of people who work at Anglian Water.”

The unions said ending the final salary scheme was a cost cutting exercise response to regulatory pressure. “The schemes will close in favour of a cheaper inferior scheme, saving the company £8m each year. Transferring workers from a guaranteed income based on their final salary into a defined contribution scheme with much less contributions from the company which will open up workers’ pensions to huge uncertainty plunging their pension pots into the volatile market with no guaranteed returns,” they said. They claimed the move will affect 1,300 Anglain staff.

Anglian said the deal available to all of its 5,000 employees was a 6% pay increase over two years and a one-off payment to each member of the old Defined Benefit scheme. “Our obligation is to provide an equitable, fair and financially sustainable pension for all our employees, and a bill that is affordable for customers. This is something that simply wouldn’t be possible given the escalating costs of our old Defined Benefit scheme,” Anglian said.

It claimed that under the new scheme, most of its employees were likely to be “just as well off, and could be better off, depending on their personal circumstances and choices.” The unions argued that some of its members stood to lose more than £100,000 “should the new scheme fail to deliver on wildly optimistic projections in a volatile market.”