Workers vote to strike over pensions row at Tata Steel

Tata Steel, Stocksbridge.
Tata Steel, Stocksbridge.
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Steel workers at Tata Steel have unanimously voted for strike action over plans to close the British Steel pension scheme and make employees work five more years to get their full pension.

The firm is one of South Yorkshire’s biggest employers, with more than 2,000 workers in Rotherham and Stocksbridge.

70 per cent of those balloted by Unite backed strike action on a turnout of 66 per cent.

Unite said in a statement that it, along with other steel unions, Community, GMB and Ucatt has already offered pension savings of £850 million to the company after five months of intensive negotiations.

Today workers can retire at the age of 60 without an actuarial reduction. But Tata Steel is changing the rules so that workers wishing to retire at 60 will lose five per cent of each year of early retirement – 25 per cent in total.

Unite will be meeting with the other steel unions next week to discuss next steps including industrial action.

Unite national officer for steel Paul Reuter said: “Our members have made it clear that they are not prepared to have their contracts with their futures torn up in front of their eyes.

“We have offered Tata Steel UK the savings it says it needs. Instead the company is hell bent on making people who work in a physically demanding environment graft unnecessarily for a further five years to get their full pension.

“Tata Steel UK’s plans will financially penalise workers and rob them of their retirement they are working so hard for.

“We would urge Tata to reflect on the anger demonstrated by the ballot result and avoid the possibility of the first national industrial action in the industry for 30 years by entering into further meaningful talks.”

GMB members in Tata Steel voted for industrial action at the end of May.

Members said they have sent ‘a clear message to the company that they will not sit back and let them take away their hard earned pensions’, the union says.

As of December 2014, the British Steel Pension Scheme had 143,000 members, with 17,004 employee members and 91,264 pensioner members.

The assets were valued at £13.6 billion in November.

A Tata Steel spokesman said: “We have been trying to develop an affordable and sustainable pension scheme for employees, so today’s ballot result is very disappointing.

“Less than half of our workforce actually voted for strike action and less than half of Unite union’s members who were balloted voted for it. Indeed in several regions, union members voted against strike action. GMB members in the North East and North West regions voted against strike action, as did Community union’s members at our Firsteel site in the West Midlands.

“Everyone agrees that change is needed to resolve the challenges facing our pension scheme which has a projected shortfall of more than £2 billion.

“We have worked hard to find a fair and balanced way of overcoming these challenges. We are disappointed therefore that no shared recommendation with the unions could be reached.

“We have over the last few months listened carefully to our employees during a consultation process. We’ve held face-to-face pension roadshows with 5,000 employees and we’ve received 4,000 letters and emails. In response to this feedback, we will soon be announcing new measures which will lessen the impact of the proposed pension changes, particularly on our longest-serving employees nearing retirement age.

“We hope that these important changes to our proposals will be welcomed by employees and the trade unions and that they will consider this when deciding on any industrial action.”