Leaders back mass protests to protect pensions schemes

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Trade Union leaders unanimously backed calls for a national day of action on pensions yesterday to prevent billions of pounds being "stolen" from pension schemes.

Tony Woodley, newly-elected general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, told delegates that £19bn had been stolen from company pension schemes over the last few years.

He said: "Ronnie Biggs spent 35 years on the run for stealing pennies compared to what our companies are doing to pensions now.

"Let nobody say we have a country that cannot afford to meet the commitments of funding pensions."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: "We have a pensions crisis. What we are seeing is twilight robbery."

He raised the prospect of industrial action over pension rights. He said: "There should be a national demonstration along the lines of recent protests held in France, Germany and Italy. We need to show this Government that we mean business.

"The Government's action on pensions is failing to meet the needs of workers and pensioners, resulting in workers either having to work longer or struggle to exist in old age." Gerald Imison, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "It seems quite clear that the Government has failed to learn the lessons of Robert Maxwell. It cannot think it can play around with pension funds as though it was its own property instead of funds held in trust for the generations to come."

Derek Simpson, general secretary of the giant Amicus union, accused employers of "jumping on the bandwagon" by closing pension schemes.

Jeannie Drake, deputy general secretary of the Communication Workers' Union, said: "What motivates employers more than anything else is the desire to transfer risk to employees and to reduce costs. British employers have saved billions by closing final salary schemes.

"For years and years when the stock market was rising employers took contribution holidays but when they fell they dumped the risk onto the employee."