Rail strike cancelled as employers back down on pensions

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Next Tuesday’s rail strike in the UK has been called off after employers made a dramatic 11th hour climb down over the closure of its final salary pension scheme.

Network Rail, like one in four other British employers, planned to close its final salary scheme to new employees to save money. In its place, the company planned to set up a money purchase scheme, where the final pay-out depends on investment returns.

But the planned strike on London Underground - which centres on demands for a four-day working week - will still go ahead.

Bob Crow, leader of the Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, told BBC news today: "The national rail strike is called off. The company has made an offer to us to re-open the pension scheme... the only qualification period would be five years service...

"The company closed the scheme down and said they wouldn't open it and it is now re-opened and we are really over the moon that we defended the pension scheme for our members."

The deal was struck during face-to-face talks between Crow and Network Rail chief executive John Armitt.

"We are very happy. We had been told we were living in a dream world and that we had no chance of getting this scheme reopened,” Crow said.

"Someone told us that there was more chance of hell freezing over but thanks to our members being prepared to take industrial action and shut down the railways we have been able to get this scheme reopened.

"Mr Armitt has acted very honourably and dealt directly with us."

Network Rail’s climb-down marks a significant victory for industrial muscle over corporate bean-counters. But it is likely to be only the first dispute of its type as anger grows amongst union members against employers who try to reduce pension benefits and replace final salary schemes with defined benefit arrangements.

Last month, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said that workers were no longer prepared to accept cuts in their pension rights.

"Pensions have shot up the union agenda,” he said. “This is not because they have suddenly become of interest to activists and union leaders, but because they are a top concern for people at work.

"We have already seen industrial action, more is currently threatened and, if further attempts to cut pensions are made, then the inevitable result will be further industrial action,” Barber warned.

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