Pearson in dispute over pensions

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The Independent Online
Pearson the TV and media group, stands accused of trying to prevent its staff from appointing trustees to its pension schemes.

Staff, including journalists at the Financial Times, are fighting to reject the company's proposals and to appoint their own member-nominated trustees.

The row follows the introduction of the new 1996 Pension Act, drawn up in the wake of the Maxwell scandal, where more than pounds 250m was siphoned away from pension schemes. The Act requires pensioners and staff to be represented on a scheme's board of trustees.

Pearson has proposed that staff can nominate representatives - but that the final decision should rest with a panel appointed by the company. The staff fear the result will be employee representatives who lack true independence.

Such opt-out proposals were intended to free companies from the burden of calling new elections where employee trustees were already in place, and were acceptable to staff and pensioners. At least a third of the trustees under the new Act must be employee or pensioner nominees.

To date, Pearson would appear to be the only blue-chip company that has elected to follow an opt-out procedure to avoid holding a full election of member appointed trustees.

Bryan Freake, the pensions officer for the Manufacturing, Science, and Finance Union, said a number of small, family owned companies had also sought to follow opt-out procedures. But he said he was unaware of any company following the opt-out route without the support of unions or employees.

Andrew Bolger, father of the chapel for the National Union of Journalists at the Financial Times, said: "We want to have direct representation, and not people vetoed by a panel composed of existing trustees."

Another employee said that without full employee representation "the pension scheme will remain more secretive, and the employee trustees who are appointed will not have been endorsed by staff or pensioners".

Pearson rejects the claims. Pam Jenkins, Pearson's group pensions manager, said the company wanted to have "the best qualified candidates selected as trustee directors, to represent the interests of the entire membership". She noted that most of the members were pensioners and deferred pensioners - not current employees.