Unions battle water company over pension closure

By Damian Fantato

FT Advisor

Trade unions have accused Anglian Water of “seeking industrial unrest” over the closure of its defined benefit pension scheme.

Unite, Unison and the GMB held a meeting with the chief executive of Anglian Water last week to seek the involvement of arbitration service Acas over the dispute but they were told this would not happen.

The unions claim more than 1,300 workers at Anglian Water are affected by the closure of the pension schemes and claim some could lose up to £100,000 from the proposed defined contribution replacement.

Anglian Water has disputed the unions’ claims and said the majority of employees are likely to be just as well off, and could be better off, depending on their personal circumstances and choices.

The utility company, which is the largest geographic water company in England and Wales, has said it will close its DB schemes because the water regulator Ofwat has told it to save money.

Michael Ainsley, GMB regional officer, said: “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.”

The unions have also claimed that the chief executive of Anglian Water, Peter Simpson, is paid around 150 times the lowest wage for a worker at the company and is on target to receive a minimum total remuneration of £1.2m, and as his pension is fully funded he’s a deferred member of the pension schemes so he receives a “significant” payment in lieu instead.

In response, a spokesman for Anglian Water was putting nearly £20m into its pension fund next year alone in order to provide a “fair and improved” scheme for its employees.

They added: “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 advisers from across the sector to create a fair package for all that is widely understood and accepted by our staff.

“They’ve chosen to turn down – on behalf of all 5,000 of our employees – a generous offer of a guaranteed 6 per cent (3+3) 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.”

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