Unions May Win New Powers Over
By Christine Buckley, Business.TimesOnline.co.uk
Unions may soon win important new bargaining powers over company pensions in a move that has sparked fears from employers, The Times has learnt.
The Department of Trade and Industry is considering including pensions in statutory collective bargaining - the range of issues over which employers must negotiate with unions when they have union recognition deals. At present, collective bargaining includes only pay, hours and holidays.
Including pensions in collective bargaining initially would affect only new recognition agreements. However, unions have the right to press for "top- up" arrangements for existing collective bargaining deals that fall short of other schemes, and it is expected that a flood of claims would be made.
The manufacturers' organization EEF has written to Gerry Sutcliffe, the Employment Minister, giving warning of opposition to the move. The letter from David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy, said: "Our members are strongly opposed to the idea of including pensions on the statutory collective bargaining agenda . . .
"Not only do they believe that the number of private sector organizations that negotiate about occupational pension arrangements with trade unions on a voluntary basis is relatively small, but they consider that this proposed change would create a number of serious practical problems."
The EEF says that union members represent only a minority of pension members in many schemes because the arrangements cover the whole workforce and that there would be conflict between member-nominated pension trustees and union representatives.
Unions are pressing for the change. Tony Woodley, general secretary of the T&G, said: "We see time and time again examples where workers have major changes made to their pensions yet their union has no rights to negotiate on their behalf. Employers cannot continue to make unilateral changes, especially given the pensions robbery that has occurred, without reference to scheme members.
As workers are being asked to contribute more to their pensions, they need confidence in the security of the scheme and that must mean their union being able to negotiate on their pension."
Bryan Freake, an Amicus pension's official, said: "This appears to contradict the Government's previous decision to close a loophole in the Employment Relations Act that could have been used to enforce collective bargaining on pensions. Pensions are deferred pay, people's salary in retirement, and should be treated in the same way as pay in the collective bargaining process."