Following news of a planned strike by a around a third of United Utilities’ employees, Anglian Water could also be facing strike action over pensions. The company has been accused by unions of “seeking industrial unrest” over the closure of its final salary pension scheme.
Trade unions GMB, Unite and Unison claim Anglian Water “refused” to enter talks at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) over the closure of the pension scheme.
But Anglian Water has told Utility Week the unions “refuse to be open about what support there is for their position”. The company said more than 2,000 staff members took part in a consultation on the creation of a new pension scheme.
Meanwhile the unions say they held a “last ditched meeting” with Anglian Water’s chief executive, Peter Simpson yesterday afternoon (8 March) to seek the involvement of ACAS to resolve the dispute. They claim Simpson told the trade unions to “ballot for industrial action” as he was not prepared to attend any meetings with ACAS.
A spokesperson for Anglian Water, told Utility Week: “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. In contrast, more than 2,000 colleagues took part in our consultation on the creation of our new pension scheme. We drew on the expertise of advisors from across the sector to create a fair package for all that is widely understood and accepted by our staff.
“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.”
They added: “Instead, they’ve chosen to turn down – on behalf of all 5,000 of our employees – a generous offer of a guaranteed 6 per cent pay increase over two years, and a one-off payment to every affected member of the old defined benefit scheme. 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.
“That’s reflective of the quality of the deal which delivers a fair and improved pension scheme for the majority of our colleagues. To make it happen we’re putting almost £20 million into our pension fund next year alone.
“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.”
The unions said more than 1,300 workers at Anglian Water are affected by the closure of the defined benefit pension schemes, which they claim could see “some losing up to £100,000”, should the new planned defined contribution pension scheme fail to deliver.
They also suggest Anglian Water has made the decision to close the final salary pension scheme because the “water regulator Ofwat has told them to save money” and the “inferior” scheme will save the company £8 million each year.
A statement from the unions said: “Anglian Water will certainly ‘love every drop’ they can wring out of employees pensions, they will use the proceeds to prop up their already vast profits and this will amount to an incredible shortfall for employees making it much more difficult for them in their old age than it otherwise might have been.”
Michael Ainsley, GMB Regional officer, added: “I have written to Frank Field and the commons pension’s select committee asking that they look into this scandal as the company are ignoring the union member’s rejection of their proposals and are imposing the closure of their pensions.
“This is about a transfer of wealth from customers, tax payers and staff to shareholders and is to my mind as much asset stripping as would be selling off reservoirs, buildings or land.”
Unite regional officer Adam Oakes, said: “Anglian Water bosses are pocketing millions in pay while hiking up bills for customers and attacking the hard earned pensions of workers.”
He added: “Pensions are workers’ deferred wages enabling them to provide for themselves and their loved ones in retirement. We would urge bosses at Anglian Water to stop seeking confrontation and start listening to its workforce by engaging in talks with the trade unions at ACAS.”
Anglian Water said it has looked at a wide range of “sample calculations” and its modelling suggests the majority of its employees are likely to be “just as well off and could be better off”, depending on their personal circumstances and choices.