Lloyds TSB on strike alert

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LLOYDS TSB, the bank group, faces a raft of irritating problems, including possible industrial action, just as it looks to make a major acquisition.

Within a fortnight banking union Bifu is to ballot its Lloyds TSB members on industrial action to secure pay rises. Bifu official Hugh Roberts says members are angry at the poor pay rises on offer.

A Lloyds TSB spokeswoman said: "We have offered our staff a 17 per cent rise so we do not understand why Bifu is demanding more." She said 4 per cent of that was a standard pay rise, 11 per cent was a bonus and 2 per cent was a staff incentive.

Lloyds TSB faces more delays to its private Bill in Parliament that would approve the pounds 15bn merger between Lloyds Bank and TSB. The TSB Hill Samuel Action Group (HSAG), which is fighting for better pensions for its staff, has lobbied against the Bill because of concerns over the group's pension surplus of about pounds 900m. A current pension fund holiday could be extended to 2015.

Billy James, a ex-director of Hill Samuel, the former merchant bank division of TSB which was closed, is organising the action group. He says the merger lacks adequate safeguards to protect deferred and existing pensioners from TSB and Hill Samuel. "We want to ensure that the pension surplus is not dissipated away, but is securely protected for the benefit of the deferred members."

The chief obstacle facing Lloyds TSB is the blocking motion delivered earlier this year by Conservative MPs Gerald Howarth and Howard Flight. Unless it is lifted, the Bill can only pass through parliament with a full debate and a clear majority of 100 MPs. A spokeswoman for Lloyds TSB said the bank was confident it could achieve a majority, but it would be seeking a meeting with two MPs to discuss their concerns.

Observers say it is unlikely that the bank could persuade enough MPs to turn up at the allotted time and vote it through. Mr Howarth said: "We are not making much progress at present. It's no good Lloyds TSB saying the bill has nothing to do with pensions, as clause eight specifically deals with the merger of the pension funds."

He says he and Mr Flight will be writing back to agree a meeting, but that they will insist on the action group and lawyers from both sides being present. He says the bank failed to answer detailed questions put to it by lawyers Nabarro Nathanson acting for HSAG.

The group will also claim sexual discrimination by Lloyds TSB against some former senior women executives of Hill Samuel. Some who were transferred from Hill Samuel to merchant bank Close Brothers were given new pension entitlements based on Hill Samuel's scheme. A Lloyds TSB spokeswoman said the claims were baseless.

Lloyds TSB is selling assets, including last weeks' pounds 25m sale of Universal Credit, to build a war chest for a major acquisition.

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