Bus workers fear threat to pension rights

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The Independent Online
PENSION rights worth millions of pounds may be lost by thousands of bus company workers caught in privatisation crossfire between Whitehall and local councils.

The Government has set a 31 December deadline for the sale of six municipally owned transport companies, after which employees will lose membership of the local government pension scheme.

Other bus companies, including Greater Manchester Buses, have been told employees will have to leave the pension scheme even if plans for privatisation are accelerated to meet the deadline.

The 2,900-member South Yorkshire Transport workforce, one of the six given until December to arrange a sale, yesterday claimed delays could cost employees index-linked pensions and incremental sickness and death benefits.

The bus company, owned by the four South Yorkshire councils, has been earmarked for an employee buy-out. The deal was shelved by the Labour councils in the hope that a Labour government would allow the company to remain in public ownership. 'We suspect they still don't want to sell for political reasons,' Martin Mayer, the transport workers' union branch secretary, said.

'They could hold on until forced to sell by new legislation. They say they can satisfy our concern about pensions, but if they delay, we lose membership of the local government scheme and we are convinced no private scheme can be as good. Why should we be forced to lose out through privatisation?'

The gap between private schemes and the local government pension busmen have been paying since 1973 is widest in the provision for employees forced to retire through ill health. A worker with 10 years' service would receive a lump sum and pension almost double the sum paid by comparable private schemes.

South Yorkshire Transport unions have appealed to local MPs for support in a campaign to accelerate the buy-out before the December pensions deadline.

Leaders of the 5,000 Greater Manchester bus workers will ask Roger Freeman, the Transport Minister responsible for bus services, to give them the opportunity of arranging a buy-out.

Frank Moore, a Transport and General Workers' Union leader, said: 'We have had no talks about privatisation with the councils - it has been taboo. We cannot get a scheme as good as the local government one and, at the moment, we are going to be thrown out with the possibility of the company being sold to a buyer who may be no more trustworthy than Maxwell.'