IBM's UK employees brace themselves for pensions blow

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British employees of IBM are bracing themselves to become the latest victims of the growing pensions crisis amid speculation that the US computer giant is poised to axe its final-salary scheme.

The company's UK general manager, Larry Hirst, has ordered hundreds of his line managers to report to meetings across the country today so he can flesh out the new pension plans.

This month, the US group, which has a $7.4bn (£4.2bn) pension deficit, announced it was ending its defined benefit scheme for 125,000 American workers from 2008. Unions are worried it will follow suit in the UK.

Peter Skyte, the national officer for the IT sector at Amicus, the manufacturing, technical and skilled workers' union, is afraid the move from IBM would set a dangerous precedent within the industry.

"Given IBM's profile and its position in the market, our concern is this will prompt a chain reaction in the IT sector and beyond," Mr Skyte warned.

About one-third of IBM's 20,000 UK employees are signed up to the company's final-salary scheme, which closed to new members some years ago.

IBM began seeking to plug its pension deficit last year when it forced staff to up their contributions to the scheme to 6 per cent of their salary from 4 per cent. At the time staff were led to believe the regime would safeguard the future of the scheme until at least 2014.

IBM's line managers will meet in London, at the Park Lane Hilton, and in venues in Manchester and Greenock, Scotland. No one from the company was available to comment yesterday.

Companies have stepped up the pace at which they are shutting final-salary schemes or tightening the terms of their plans amid soaring deficits.

Last week John Lewis Partnership said it may raise the retirement age for staff in its final-salary scheme, while Scottish & Newcastle told staff they must pay more to remain in the brewer's final-salary scheme.

Meanwhile, Rentokil Initial, the support services group, became the first FTSE 100 company to scrap its lucrative pension scheme last month.