On 26 November, National Air Traffic Services (NATS) staff were faced with a grim announcement from management: their Defined Benefit pension scheme was in deficit to the tune of £1bn, and threatened to bring down the company (again).
Part of the solution is a change from RPI to CPI, following the well-worn path of the public sector. In a letter sent to the homes of all 4,500 employees, the CEO assured members that there will be “measured and proportionate contributions from all stakeholders”, though no details have been given as to how any other party is to contribute.
Despite management’s urgency to address the “problem”, last December’s valuation put the deficit at £1.3bn, and the triennial valuation is not due for several weeks.
Particularly galling is the fact that this attack comes a mere three years after the signing of a 15-year agreement to protect the scheme, at the cost of closing it to new members and capping pensionable payrises.
The NATS Trade Union Side (NTUS), comprising reps from the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and Prospect, has behaved like a deer in headlights throughout. Updates have been devoid of meaningful content, stating only that they had no idea that management were going to hold briefings and that they are committed to finding a joint solution.
What has only come to light now is that for months management has been holding the NTUS to ransom over pay, demanding that they agree to pension concessions before even discussing January’s pay deal. The Trustees, in their routine quarterly statement, have been somewhat relaxed about the issue, indicating that they will ponder the deficit over the coming months, taking the wind out of management’s sails.
Sadly for union members it seems unlikely that the NTUS will mount any kind of defence, though perhaps they could put to good use the thousands of “hands off my pension” stickers PCS has left over from the abandoned public sector dispute.