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Union threatens national rail strike as pensions row flares

TRAIN operators have been warned by the white collar rail union TSSA that a national rail strike is on the cards if any changes are made to the Railways Pension Scheme.

The RPS was set up in 1994 as part of railway privatisation and is still open to new members but it is increasingly in deficit, and an article in the Financial Times has called for it to be replaced by a defined contribution arrangement.

The problems of funding the RPS emerged last year, when several bidders for franchises attempted to modify the pension risks the proposed franchise contracts expected them to take.

Stagecoach, Virgin and Arriva all had their bids ruled out as ‘non-compliant’ by the Department for Transport as a result, affecting the competitions for West Coast Partnership, East Midlands and South Eastern. The first two of these have since been awarded to FirstGroup-Trenitalia and Abellio respectively.

The suggestion that the RPS is now out of date and no longer sustainable in its present form has angered TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, who has told the managing directors of each franchised operator in a circular letter that any changes could spark industrial action.

He said he wants to ‘make it very clear that TSSA will resist any attack on the way that the RPS is structured or if any attempt is made to close it in any form, including to further accrual and to new starters’.

Mr Cortes also says the newspaper article ‘ignores informal discussions that have been taking place’ between the operators, unions, pensions administrators and government.

He commented: ‘The rail bosses know full well that the failure here is not the pension scheme but privatisation itself. Rail workers and rail unions are at the forefront of keeping our railways running safely – while private companies have stuffed gold into the mouths of shareholders.

‘Let me be clear – the pensions scheme is off the table and I now want to hear that loud and clear from the bosses of the rail companies or a national rail strike is very much on the cards.’

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