Unions have described moves to slash the pensions of those who tend the cemeteries of the war dead, run by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), by £6,000-a-year as ‘a scandal’.
The CWGC is pressing ahead in breaking the final salary linkage for the calculation of benefits from next March, despite the strong opposition of Unite, the country’s largest union; Public and Commercial Services (PCS); and Prospect.
The unions move comes as the country recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain which focussed modern minds on what ultimate sacrifices were made in the skies of southern England in the summer of 1940.
Next year, the country will mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme which saw 60,000 causalities on day one – 1 July 1916 - of the offensive.
The CWGC wants to auto-enrol the 180 active members of the scheme into the alternative Group Personal Pension (GPP) which will mean much diminished pensions on retirement.
Unite national officer Julia Long said: “The pension scheme has always been a way of attracting and retaining staff. When they signed up to work for the commission it was part of their package.
“Now they face having up to £6,000 slashed from their pension while the director general of the commission Victoria Wallace receives more than the prime minister – a very lavish £160,000-a-year. It is a scandal.
“Our members face an old age of grinding poverty. We want to put pressure on the CWGC to review its decision and consider the alternatives put forward by the unions.”
PCS head of bargaining Paul O'Connor said: "As we remember and reflect on the terrible loss of life in the world wars, it is grossly insulting for the commission to seek to cut the pensions of low paid staff who tend the graves of the war dead. These proposals must be withdrawn so that we can properly negotiate changes that are acceptable to staff."
Prospect national secretary David Luxton said: “The commission’s staff perform a vital role in ensuring dignity for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and for their families. The unions have put forward constructive alternative proposals that would reduce the commission’s pension costs and risks, and would deal with the scheme’s deficit; but these have been rejected by the commissioners.
“It is vital that the public and our parliamentary representatives are aware of the disregard being shown to those who perform such an important service.”
The unions have made counter proposals, such as raising the member contributions from 1.5 per cent to five per cent over the next two years, recognising that the scheme has a £2.4 million deficit, but the CWGC bosses have rejected the unions’ alternatives.
The CWGC cares for the graves and memorials to almost 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars, and works at 23,000 locations in 153 countries, and on every continent except Antarctica.
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
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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.