Beefeaters to strike over pension dispute

The GMB union says 91 per cent of members at the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace who took part in a ballot voted to strike

Beefeaters (Photograph: Getty Images)
Beefeaters (Photograph: Getty Images)

Beefeaters at the Tower of London are set to go on strike amid a dispute about planned changes to their pension scheme by the charity Historic Royal Palaces.

The union GMB said today that members employed by the charity, which manages unoccupied royal sites including Hampton Court Palace, the Kensington Palace State Apartments and Kew Palace, have voted to support strike action next year.

GMB said that 91 per cent of members at the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace who took part in the ballot voted in favour of strike action.

The union said the first day of strike action would be 8 January, when picket lines would be formed outside the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.

Employees are upset that HRP, which was spun out from the public sector as a royal charter body in 1998, plans to change their pension scheme from a defined-benefit version to a defined-contribution scheme.

The GMB said that for those affected the move amounted to "a pay cut for the rest of their lives".

The union said the charity promised at the time of the transfer that employees’ pensions would not be changed.

The charity, which employs about 1,200 people, said the scheme had become unsustainable and posed too great a risk for the organisation.

About 50 of the approximately 200 GMB members working at HRP were balloted, with a turnout of 88 per cent.

Michael Ainsley, GMB regional organiser, said: "HRP is jumping on a bandwagon that is seeing employers engaging in a race to the bottom, ending good final-salary schemes and replacing them with risky, cheaper defined-contribution schemes.

"All the while the UK government stands idly by at a time when they're telling the population to save for their retirement and our elderly can’t afford to pay for social care.

"GMB members still, at this late stage, are willing to talk to HRP, but the silence from HRP is deafening."

John Barnes, chief executive of Historic Royal Palaces, said the industrial action would not change the charity’s decision to close its defined-benefit pension scheme and said the strike was not expected to have a significant impact on the day-to-day operation of its sites.

"We have already, during a lengthy consultation, offered substantial compensation and transition arrangements to the 11 per cent of our staff who are affected," he said.

"The benefits they have already accrued will be fully protected, and they will be transferred to the same competitive defined-contribution scheme as the other 89 per cent of their colleagues in April 2019.

"The closure of the scheme enables us to increase employer contributions to pensions for everyone by 2 per cent, an offer that is fundamentally fairer to our entire workforce."

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