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Jaguar plans second dip into pension fund

JAGUAR, the loss-making luxury car maker, plans to dip into its pension fund for the second time in a year to help finance 700 job cuts.

The move has angered former white-collar staff who are campaigning to bring their pensions into line with production workers'.

Last year Jaguar clawed back pounds 24m from the pension fund's surplus to enhance early retirement packages for about 500 employees.

Now the company wants the pension trustees to re-open the scheme, which offers a pounds 100 weekly 'golden goodbye' to anyone between 55 and 65 years old.

Raymond Beach, a former supervisor who retired in 1991, accused Jaguar of reneging on a promise to harmonise pensions between staff and hourly-paid workers.

He said: 'Jaguar is using the surplus to encourage a few workers to take early retirement, when everyone has contributed to the surplus and should therefore have a share.'

Jaguar is not the first company to use a surplus to finance early retirement, although one pensions expert said he had never heard of a company doing it twice in one year. 'It is unquestionably more common for companies to enhance benefits across the board rather than for one particular group,' he said. 'Therefore I can understand the complaint of anyone who feels the Jaguar surplus is not being used for everyone's benefit.'

Jaguar's move comes at a time when the Maxwell affair has unsettled the pensions industry and heightened worries among employees. This week a group of 70 pensioners began a legal challenge against a decision that allowed Lucas Industries to claw back pounds 150m from a pounds 600m surplus.

In February, Jaguar's surplus was about pounds 55m. Mr Beach said white-collar staff can receive up to 33 per cent less in pensions than colleagues on the production line despite having worked the same length of service.

Jaguar, owned by Ford, made a pre-tax loss of about pounds 80m in the first half of this year and is desperately shedding staff to cut costs in the wake of an unprecedented collapse in car sales.

A company spokesman said the trustees had discussed harmonising pensions, but had decided against it. He said he expected them to re-open the early retirement scheme.