Co-op and TDG staff threaten to strike over pensions

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The Independent Online

Disputes over workers' pensions continued to reverberate across the country yesterday as staff of the Co-operative Group and 140 future employees of the logistics company TDG threatened to strike over plans which could cut their benefits.

Last week, the Co-op announced it was scrapping its final-salary pension scheme for existing workers in favour of a plan where members receive only a proportion of their career-average salary. For most, this will mean accepting a lower pension.

Shop stewards representing about 1,000 Co-op drivers and warehouse workers met yesterday for the first time since the plans were announced, and agreed to set the wheels in motion for a strike ballot.

Elsewhere 140 drivers, who are set to lose out on some pension benefits when they switch from Wincanton to TDG this year, went one step further than the Co-op workers by voting in favour of imminent strike action. The drivers are switching employer after Wincanton lost the contract to deliver fuel to Tesco's forecourts to TDG.

In response to potential strike action, Nick Eyre, the Co-op group secretary, said: "This is a disappointing response ... at a time when all UK pension funds are facing massive increases in pension costs and associated risks which we have sought to address in a measured and appropriate way. While, overall, the three pension funds are not in deficit, they are not immune to these cost pressures. It is only by continued careful and prudent management going forward that we can maintain a quality defined-benefit scheme."

But Ron Webb, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "We warned the Co-op their plans to axe the final-salary pension scheme would be unpopular and this is the proof. Our transport members have made it clear they will do all they can to keep the pensions they expected. They cannot expect us to take this without a fight."

Commenting on TDG's move, Mr Webb said: "This situation is just wrong from start to finish. There are well-established procedures for transferring drivers when contracts change. They should be acted on." TDG was unavailable for comment.

Last month, Rentokil said it was shutting its final-salary scheme altogether. Days later, Provident Financial said members would have to double contributions to receive their anticipated levels of benefit.