April 28, 2017 / 10:33 AM / 3 years ago

Royal Mail considers ways to replace pension plan after union backlash

(Reuters) - Britain’s Royal Mail is looking at ways to replace the final salary pension scheme it plans to scrap at the end of March 2018, after a backlash from unions including the threat of possible strike action.

A Royal Mail postal van is parked outside homes in Maybury near Woking in southern England March 25, 2014. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Royal Mail, the postal service privatised in 2013, said on Friday it was one of only a few major companies to still have staff in a defined benefit scheme, a type of pension that pays out according to workers’ final salary and length of service.

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) opposes Royal Mail’s move to close the scheme and says it would result in employees in the plan losing on average up to a third of their future pensions.

Around 90,000 Royal Mail workers are in the scheme, whose closure to new members in 2008 resulted in about 40,000 workers joining a less generous defined contribution plan.

Royal Mail said among the options for those leaving the older scheme, it was considering a defined benefit cash balance scheme, where employees would receive a fixed sum at retirement plus payments based on the performance of a pension fund. Royal Mail said this built on a proposal put forward by the CWU.

“We believe that the defined benefit cash balance scheme would be a fair proposal that compares favourably with the retirement benefits offered in our industry and by other large UK employers,” the company said in a statement.

British companies are facing increasing costs to fund pensions as people live longer and investment returns on bonds have fallen and are expected to remain low.

At 1310 GMT, Royal Mail shares were down 3.7 percent at 403.6 pence.

The new scheme would be set up in a new section of the company’s overall pension plan, with employees also having the option to join the defined contribution scheme, it said.

Royal Mail said the cost of the new plan would be much lower than that required to maintain the current arrangement, which would have meant it more than doubling its annual contributions to over 1 billion pounds.

The company currently pays around 400 million pounds a year into the defined benefit scheme, and a spokesman said the cost of the new proposed scheme would be similar.

The company is continuing to hold talks with the CWU as well as unions Unite/CMA over its pension plan, it added.

Unite said talks with Royal Mail over plans to close the defined benefit scheme were “complex and difficult.”

“...if we don’t achieve a satisfactory outcome, we can’t rule out an industrial action ballot,” Brian Scott, the union’s officer for the Royal Mail said in an emailed statement.

Reporting by Esha Vaish and Rahul B in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Potter

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