Monday, June 22, 2015

News: Tata Steel strike suspended

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Strike action at Tata Steel scheduled for today has been suspended by unions as they prepare to ballot members over a new pension offer.

The dispute is around Tata Steel's proposed changes to its pension scheme, which include closing the British Steel Pension Scheme (BSPS) to future accrual. The scheme is faced with a projected shortfall of up to £2 billion, which both the company and the unions agree makes change necessary. 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.

The new pension offer had been reached early last week following talks between Tata Steel and the unions facilitated by the conciliation service ACAS. Details of the changes were presented to the union delegates on Friday. Those present decided that the new offer could be put to a ballot of all union members and therefore strike action was suspended. The unions are recommending that the deal is accepted.

Over 2,000 people are employed by the company in South Yorkshire and the Indian-owned steelmaker has a number of operations in Rotherham.

Roy Rickhuss, Chair of the National Trade Union Steel Co-ordinating Committee and General Secretary of Community said: "Our members standing up for their pensions has made Tata Steel change its mind. Through meaningful discussions and negotiation with the company we have been able to keep the scheme open and improve on their final offer prior to their decision to close the scheme. This is a massive turnaround and means there is the opportunity for the British Steel Pension Scheme to provide dignity and security in retirement for many more steelworkers in the future.

"As we have always acknowledged there are some significant challenges for the scheme but this new offer addresses some of those issues while enabling our members to continue to accrue final salary pension benefits. Our members will make the final decision but the unions are recommending a vote in favour because we believe we have secured the best available deal from the company."

Harish Patel, national officer for Unite, added: "Union action brought the company back to the table with an improved offer. The BSPS is so important to Tata Steel employees and we have managed to keep the scheme open and secure a deal around early retirement. This is the best deal we could get and now our members get to decide. We will be urging them to vote for the offer on the table."

GMB National Officer, Dave Hulse, said: "We always told Tata Steel that closing the scheme was unacceptable but it took the unity and resolve of trade union members to make them listen. Now we've got a deal that means the scheme is open, the importance of early retirement is recognised and the challenges faced by the scheme are addressed. Of course now it's up to our members but the unions are recommending acceptance."

Officials from the British Steel Pension Scheme will be conducting roadshows around Tata Steel sites this week to explain the new pensions offer. Unions will also to begin to put in place arrangements to ballot members on the proposals.

A Tata Steel spokesman said on Friday: "We are pleased that a meeting of trade union delegates from Tata Steel sites across the UK today agreed to recommend to members a proposal which would enable UK employees to retain a modified final salary pension scheme.

"The decision recognises the substantial shortfall in the pension fund and the need to jointly address it, given the challenging business environment in the UK. The recommended proposal includes fair and balanced modifications to existing scheme arrangements to achieve this. We believe that the proposal continues to provide employees with a high-quality pension.

"The company hopes employees will recognise this recommendation as a positive way forward on pensions provision and one that gives us an opportunity to continue to work together to return the UK business to a profitable and sustainable future."

Tata Steel website

Images: Tata Steel

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