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Strikes threatened over nuclear pensions changes

Unions are threatening to strike over government proposals to consult on changes to pension schemes in the nuclear industry.09 Jan 2017

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) is due to begin a consultation today on reform of the pensions of nuclear workers "to make public pensions fair and to put them on an affordable and sustainable footing". It will consider changes to the defined benefits section of the Combined Nuclear Pension Plan and a section of the Electricity Supply Pension Scheme.

An NDA spokesperson said: "Government policy is that all public sector final salary pensions schemes should be reformed by 2018, and four million public sector workers have already moved to new pension arrangements. Specific decisions on how to change the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s estate pension schemes have yet to be taken. We have begun a formal consultation today."

GMB, one of the unions representing nuclear workers, has agreed to hold a strike ballot of its members over what it describes as "over £660 million [in] broken promises [and] pension cuts for 16,000 nuclear workers".

"The pension schemes concerned are not public sector pension schemes and were not within the scope of public sector pension reform," GMB said in a statement.

"The scheme members affected by this consultation were previously removed from public sector pension schemes. At that time statutory protections against detrimental pension changes were granted to ensure the privatisation / contractorisation process was a success. These proposed reforms ride roughshod over those protections," it said.

Pensions expert Howard Ridley of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "The government’s proposal makes sense on the basis that it might ease the burden on employers and ultimately the taxpayer. The management of pension cost and risk for the nuclear industry and indeed across all sectors has been a fact of life for some time. However the proposal is going to be controversial all the same."

"The changes are being presented as part of the public sector pension reform process although arguably the nuclear pension schemes and the employers which participate in them are not really in the public sector. The benefit protections built into legislation and pension scheme rules were the result of tough negotiations to ensure that the pension terms for employees in the nuclear and electricity industries would not be made any less favourable when they were transferred to the private sector. But hopefully the eventual outcome from the consultation will be a sensible agreed position which balances the best interests of all stakeholders," Ridley said.