Wednesday, June 3, 2015

News: Champion to support steelworkers

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Sarah Champion, Member of Parliament for Rotherham, will be backing the forthcoming strike voted on by workers at Tata Steel if their current dispute cannot be resolved.

Tata Steel began a statutory 60-day consultation about changes to its pension scheme, which include closing the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) to future accrual, in March and the company is proposing closure of the scheme on April 1 2016.

To pay for a deficit in the pension scheme, the company proposed to introduce a cap on pensionable earnings and end the early retirement provisions whereby members can retire at 60 with a full pension. Under the company's proposals, after a short period of phasing, members wishing to retire at 60 would have their pension reduced by 25%.

Union members have been balloted across all Tata Steel UK sites, which include Rotherham and Stocksbridge. Community, UCATT and GMB all voted in favour of industrial action in official ballots with Unite's closing on Friday.

Sarah Champion said: "Strike action should always be a last resort, but in this instance, I believe it is. Our local steel workers have tried everything to negotiate with Tata's bosses over changes to their pension scheme, but nothing constructive has happened.

"For me, this is about treating your workers with fairness. It's not fair to expect them to work all their lives, pay into a pension scheme on the basis of retiring at 60, and then suddenly be told that they can't do that now and they have to work another five years. Working in the steel industry is hard physical work and we should be mindful of the toll it takes.

"I am hopeful that a deal can be reached before the planned strike, but if not, my support will lie firmly with the workers."

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Steel, the group of MPs that liaises with and lobbies the government on steel issues, invited Karl-Ulrich Köhler, chief executive of Tata Steel Europe to brief the group on the potential for the first steel strike in 30 years. Members of the group include Sheffield MPs, Clive Betts and Angela Smith.

Late last week the APPG was informed by Tata Steel that they would be sending a small team of more junior executives to the meeting that was due to take place on Monday. The APPG decided unanimously to cancel the meeting.

Tom Blenkinsop MP, Chair of the Steel APPG, said: "The pensions dispute is a matter of such serious concern to our constituents that we expected a full discussion about the issues and principles at stake.

"It was clear that only the CEO of Tata Steel could provide the answers to our questions but he only sent his spokespeople. We felt there was no point continuing the dialogue and we've demanded that Karl Koehler attends in person, so that we can hear first-hand how the company has found itself on the brink of the first national steel dispute for 35 years and what he intends to do to find a resolution to this situation. At the least, Tata should be getting back round the table with the unions."

A spokesperson for Tata Steel said: "Regrettably, MPs from steel constituencies decided not to meet us at a Westminster meeting which they had invited us to. It meant we were prevented from explaining how we are trying to develop an affordable and sustainable pension scheme for employees.

"Everyone agrees that change is needed to resolve the substantial challenges facing the pension scheme which has a huge shortfall of up to £2 billion. We have always said we are open to talks and further negotiations with the trade unions and that continues to be the case. We are putting in every effort to reach a fair and balanced way forward."

Tata Steel website

Images: Tata Steel

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