Railway workers under the leadership of the Rail and Maritime Transport union (RMT) are gearing up to resist moves to undermine the current railway pension scheme. Workers fear that the existing final-salary pension arrangement, under which retirement pay is geared to length of service and annual pay on departure, is about to be diluted – or even scrapped altogether.
According to the pensions regulator, the scheme is in deficit to the tune of £6bn (a figure that the RMT disputes). Whilst the government expects franchise bidders to take some responsibility for funding the deficit, the train operating companies want only to maximise profits – which means going all out to dodge tiresome pension obligations.
Matters came to a head when the government blocked Stagecoach from bidding for the London to Glasgow franchise – a service that has long been run by Virgin in collaboration with Stagecoach – because it failed to commit to accepting long-term pension funding risks.
As the pensions regulator slugs it out with Branson and his ilk, it is only a matter of time before some bright spark comes up with the suggestion that harmony could be restored and the deficit be magicked away by the simple expedient of jettisoning the workers’ final-salary pension agreement.
Rail workers are right to be alert to any such attempt to make them pay for the cock-ups of capitalism by forcing them submit to a ‘haircut’. The RMT’s Mick Cash has warned: “No-one should be under any illusions. The pension rights of RMT members are not there to be used as bargaining chips in a row between the train companies and the government.
“Any threat to our members’ pensions will be met with ballots for action, and we will coordinate any response across the country. This situation is deadly serious and we are preparing to fight if need be – and the government and the train companies should wake up to that fact.
“We are demanding immediate assurances that the pension rights of our members will not be threatened in any way, shape or form as the broken franchising system on Britain’s railways teeters on the brink of collapse.” (RMT warns of national strike over pensions by Tim Lezard, RMT, 12 April 2019)
Defend railway pensions; nationalise the rail industry!