Trade unions representing workers of Tata Steel in the UK will go on strike on June 22 over proposed changes to the company’s pension scheme — the biggest industrial action in the UK in nearly three decades.
Tata Steel, which employs 17,000 people in the UK across four sites, termed the unions’ decision as “very disappointing” and promised to lessen the impact of the changes, which include employees retiring at 65 instead of 60.
The “strike action” will be preceded by the employees refraining from over-time and observing work-to-rule next week in the escalating dispute.
“Steel unions have agreed Monday June 22 as the date for strike action at Tata Steel in their ongoing pensions dispute,” said Community union, which has the largest number of members who are employed at Tata Steel.
Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, said Tata had given workers “no option” but to take industrial action.
“The company has not shown any willingness to return to meaningful negotiations to find an end to this dispute. The company could avoid this by returning to the table,” he said.
However, the UK’s largest union Unite said it is still open to talks if Tatas are ready for meaningful discussions.
Tata employs over 17,000 workers across four sites in Wales in Port Talbot, Newport, Flintshire and Carmarthenshire, as well as sites around England including Corby, Hartlepool, Rotherham, Scunthorpe, Teesside and York.
A Tata Steel spokesman said: “We have been trying to develop an affordable and sustainable pension scheme for employees so we are very disappointed by today’s announcement on strike and industrial action.
“Everyone agrees that changes need to be made to resolve the challenges facing our pension scheme, which has a projected shortfall of over 2 billion pounds.
“We will soon be announcing new measures which will lessen the impact of the proposed pension changes, particularly on our longest-serving employees nearing retirement age.”
Four steel unions Community, Unite, GMB and Ucatt began voting on the nature of industrial action against changes to their British Steel Pension Scheme in early May.
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron was dragged into the row last week when he was questioned in the House of Commons about UK government action to avert the strike.
He told Parliament that discussions with Tata Steel had been kicked off “about the steps we are taking for high energy intensive industries and the help that we can give”.
Unite’s National Officer Paul Reuter said: “We are still open to talks if Tata are prepared for meaningful discussions. We have offered Tata the savings it says it needs.”
But the firm wants to close the scheme altogether. This is not acceptable to workers, which is why industrial action will start next week, he added.
Tata Steel had proposed to replace the BSPS with a “money purchase” pension scheme in which employees, the government and the employer will make definite contributions. It would also hike the retirement age from 60 to 65.
The unions say that at present workers can retire at 60 without an actuarial reduction. Instead Tata Steel insists that workers wishing to retire at 60 will lose 5 per cent of each year of early retirement – 25 per cent in total.