WE CAN stop the great pensions robbery—provided that unions are prepared to strike hard.
That’s the lesson from the victory of thousands of Network Rail workers against management moves to shut their final salary pension scheme.
The company retreated spectacularly last week under the threat of a planned national strike. It agreed to reopen the pension scheme to new entrants.
Network Rail bosses had previously told the media that “hell would freeze over” before they would do that. Financial commentators all said the RMT union had no chance of winning.
Companies across the private sector have closed similar schemes to new entrants, or replaced them altogether with inferior pension plans.
But the RMT called the biggest rail stoppage for a decade. Within days Network Rail had backed down.
It has agreed to reopen the scheme for new entrants when they have been with the company for five years.
“That’s not long in the rail industry,” says one RMT member on Network Rail. “And we’re in a position to make sure people transfer over smoothly, without incurring extra costs.”
The company was also forced to improve its pay offer to 3.5 percent for this year and inflation plus 0.75 percent next year. It will also pay a 25 percent refund on rail season ticket costs for workers—another issue it said it would not budge over. And workers will still get an agreed 35-hour week by 2006.
“This is a major victory in the industry,” says Dave Barnes, a rep for the TSSA union on rail contractor Carillion. Thousands of workers like me are being transferred over to Network Rail. The company had indicated it would take a tough line. This sets us in good stead for the future. The traditionally moderate TSSA also stuck by taking industrial action on Network Rail. That, and unity with RMT members, is something to build on. But the big lesson is for all trade unionists—we can do something to defend pensions. Imagine what would be possible if every union took action together.”