The Socialist 13 April 2006
Don't let Blair wreck the NHS
Rail pensions in crisis
AROUND 100 railworkers attended the last meeting organised by the rail trade unions to discuss the imminent pensions crisis in the industry.
An Aslef member
RMT general secretary Bob Crow spoke, alongside Gerry Doherty of the TSSA and ASLEF district organiser Mick Whelan. They were joined by Bob Rixham of Amicus.
There used to be one railway pension scheme, now there are as many as 100 sections of the scheme. They cover all the train operating companies, engineering firms, Network Rail etc. Some of these sections are small and vulnerable to collapse if just a few members leave.
It is also clear that the administration costs of so many schemes are enormous. In one scheme, to keep it viable, contributing members face having to pay in 18.5% of their salary. Last year an actuarial valuation was carried out and Gerry Doherty said the results were delivered to TSSA offices in a wheelbarrow, such is the apparent complexity of the information!
Some things are easier to understand. The Tory government took £300 million out of railway pensions pre-privatisation. Gordon Brown has trousered an extra £5 billion per year from pension funds generally. The chief executive of Network Rail got a top-up to his pension last year of £140,000.
The government might pretend that they can't interfere but they poke their noses in to the industry when it suits them. They gave various train operating companies £70 million in the last two years to offset losses they had made during industrial disputes.
If the rises in contributions being talked about go ahead, railworkers can expect any pay rises in the next few years to be eaten up in pension contributions. High-level contributions will deter people from joining the pension schemes. They will become unsustainable and workers will leave, saving the bosses the bad publicity of having to close the schemes.
Even the actuarial valuation shows that schemes which have been closed to new members have a worse funding ratio than those which are still open. The unions are campaigning for - no cuts in benefits, streamline the sections of the scheme to reduce administration costs and improve viability, cap contributions at 10.56% of salary, which is the most we would have paid under British Rail, open the scheme to all railworkers.
These are basic, minimum demands but the minister responsible, Alistair Darling hasn't agreed to meet the unions to discuss the matter. Bob Crow did suggest we should have a whip round at the meeting, raise a £million and ask for a decent pension instead of a peerage.
The unions have called a lobby of Parliament for Tuesday 9 May, starting at 1pm. I presume this is due to MPs being on lates that week.
Contributions are due to rise on 1 July, so in the absence of progress there will have to be ballots for industrial action well before then.
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