Gatwick Airport Ltd (GAL) stands accused of blatant opportunism over the closure of its final salary pension scheme as Unite, Britain’s biggest union, serves notice that it will begin balloting its 1,800 members for strike action and action short of strike from next week Friday (28 October).
Some 1,800 security staff, firefighters, airfield operations and surface transport workers, members of Unite, will begin voting from Friday 28 October following a 96 per cent vote in favour of action in a recent consultative ballot. The ballot closes on Wednesday 16 November.
The closure comes despite the company which owns GAL, raking in record profits of £142m last year, up 40 per cent on the previous year and paying out tens of millions of pounds to shareholders since 2014.
Unite is pressing the company to explain why it has failed to tackle the pension deficit when it has paid out a total of £178m in shareholder dividends since 2014.
Unite has expressed growing frustration over the company’s steadfast refusal to consider sustainable alternatives to keep the defined benefit scheme (DB) open and improve the defined contribution (DC) scheme, following a series of meetings stretching back to the start of the 60-day consultation period on 19 September.
Unite officer Phil Silkstone said: “Our members are rightly furious. Yet again we have ordinary hardworking people losing out on security in retirement at the expense of greedy, fat cat bosses and massive shareholder pay-outs.
"Closing the scheme is nothing more than blatant opportunism. GAL is owned by a hugely profitable business. Last year its profits rose by a staggering 40 per cent to a record £142m. So any pleas of poverty simply don’t ring true.
“The pension deficit is easily affordable and could have been wiped out with the £178m in shareholder pay-outs it has made over the last few years.
“Not only is the decision to close the defined benefits (DB) scheme mean-spirited and unnecessary but the defined contribution (DC) scheme is woefully inadequate, which is why Unite is also calling on the company to improve the DC scheme along with keeping a DB scheme open.
“Unite has been negotiating in good faith since talks started on 19 September. We have put forward reasonable and sustainable alternatives to keep and improve both schemes, but have been fobbed off by the company at every turn, leaving us with no other option than to ballot our members for industrial action.”
The 1,204 members of GAL’s DB scheme stand to lose tens of thousands of pounds in future pension income through the switch to a DC scheme with a top contribution rate of 8 per cent for employees and 12 per cent for the employer.
Unite said that one of the first things Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) did when it acquired Gatwick Airport in 2009 was to cut the pay of new starters by £5,000 a year. Five years later it introduced new and less generous contribution rates of four per cent for employees to get a maximum six per cent from the company to new entrants.
Unite has highlighted the acceleration of the closure of final pension salary schemes by organisations, many of which are household names.
In recent weeks, AWE Plc (the Atomic Weapons Establishment), carmaker BMW, Honeywell and the Post Office have all announced that they planning to close their defined benefit pension schemes – and Unite has pledged to fight the move to the defined contribution option by all these employers.
For more information please contact, Unite campaigns officer Chantal Chegrinec on 07774146777
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- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey