Bosses have 'walked away' from pensions morass, say unions

Sep 12 2005 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Britain's employers have walked away from the country's pensions crisis, the TUC has warned.

Ahead of the start of its 2005 annual Congress this week, the union body described the collapse of pensions' provision in the private sector as "dramatic".

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "Half of salary-related pensions closed to new entrants in just the three years between 2000 and 2003. Altogether two-thirds of final salary schemes are no longer open to new members.

"Many employers have replaced salary based pensions with new money purchase schemes. These can provide a reasonable pension if contributions are high enough. But they are not," he added.

With financial experts arguing that employees needed to save 15 per cent of pay through a money purchase scheme to gain a reasonable retirement income, the average employer and employee contribution was just under nine per cent, he stressed.

"Yet so far we have been talking about employees lucky enough to have any access to an employer backed pension. Membership of any scheme has slumped by 15 per cent in just four years," he said, adding that just one in four employees in the private sector were now members of a work-based pension.

"If that trend continues unchecked, within 20 years only one in 10 employees will be members of an occupational pension," he warned.

Government had to show leadership on this issue and take on employers, the TUC argued.

"Voluntarism or even expensive incentives will not work Ė compulsion must be introduced," said Barber.

Research by the union body has concluded that 400 top directors share pension assets of "an astonishing" billion pounds, he added.

The TUC has pointed to research by the National Association of Pension Funds that has suggested more than half of salary-related schemes closed to new entrants between 2000 and 2003.

A similar study by the Association of Consulting Actuaries in 2003 found 63 per cent of final salary schemes had shut to new entrants, and a further nine per cent to current members, the TUC added.

Employers who had closed salary-related pensions had usually replaced them with a money-purchase schemes but had also severely cut back contributions, it concluded.

Stakeholder pensions hadn't plugged the gap either because employers would not contribute, said the TUC.

Its analysis of directors of the UK's top 100 companies showed they now shared pensions worth almost £1 billion, it added.

Directors enjoyed pensions worth up to 45 times more than most staff pensions. The largest directors' pension in each company was worth £4.5 million on average, it said.

The TUC is set to agree a blueprint for the future of pensions at its Congress, which starts today, including putting a new obligation on employers and employees to contribute to a pension.

The union body intends to call for an enhanced and indexed state pension while ensuring employers and employees are compelled to contribute to a second pension either as part of the state second pension, an existing or new occupational pension or other arrangement.