The NUJ has accused Newsquest of breaking pensions promises to staff and called on the company to ‘think again’ after management announce plans to close the final salary pension scheme.
The pensions scheme, which is already restricted to existing staff, was changed in 2007 when the company increased members’ contributions to the scheme. At the time members were led to believe that by paying more they would protect the scheme for the future. Now the company has plans to axe it.
Some members received the news about the changes at the end of Friday and others received a letter to their home address on Saturday morning.
Today the NUJ has called on the company to begin meaningful national collective consultation about any new changes.
Union members are to meet next week to co-ordinate their response.
Jeremy Dear, NUJ General Secretary, said “This is appalling news for dedicated and hard working journalists at Newsquest. The company should keep its hands off members’ pensions. Hard-working staff deserve a decent retirement and Newsquest should honour its previous commitments. We call on them to think again.”
Chris Morley, NUJ Northern & Midlands Organiser, said: "We are appalled that the company chose to sneak out an announcement of this magnitude to so many of its employees in such a manner.
"Our members will expect that the company, if it has valid reasons for wanting to shut the scheme to further build up of pensions, to be open and transparent and therefore to engage honourably with the recognised trade unions on a collective and therefore national basis, as other major media companies have done in similar situations.
"Our members will have many questions to ask about why this is necessary now when just three years ago an extremely painful process led to a phased 60 per cent increase in pension contributions by members of the scheme from 6% of salary to 10% to - in the company's words - 'produce what is hoped to be a long-term sustainable solution for members of the Scheme that avoids the Scheme being closed to future accrual'.
“We need to know what has caused the scheme's deficit to apparently double in that short time when employees were making such sacrifices to keep the scheme open.
"Many will feel this is the final betrayal by a company that has demanded huge cuts in employees' standards of living in the last few years as its UK profits have continued to flow across the Atlantic to feed the massive debt built up by Gannett to pay for its acquisition of Newsquest.
"Chapels up and the country will be meeting to discuss how to respond collectively to this latest morale-sapping blow to their members."
Bob Smith, father of the NUJ's Newsquest group chapel and father of chapel at Newsquest Bradford, said: "These plans represent a huge blow to Newsquest's loyal staff who have helped the company weather the worst recession in living memory.
"Journalists' pay has been frozen for two years after the company tore up pay agreements without consultation. Now, NUJ members face losing thousands of pounds in retirement as their pensions are effectively frozen too.
"Sadly, the company's commitment to its staff has not matched that of its workers to Newsquest and journalism. It continues to earn handsome profits for its shareholders while treating its main assets - its employees - with disdain.
"Back in 2007 it asked our members to increase their pension contributions by one per cent each year and that was supposed to put the pension fund on an even footing. Its trustees said at the time: 'The trustees regret the company's view that changes in the way pension benefits are accumulated needs to change in the future, although they recognise that the cost of pension provision is increasing and is likely to do so. They also recognise that the company must be willing and able to make its contribution to ensure pensions continue to be provided at the agreed level.
"'The trustees will continue to work vigorously to ensure these benefits are safeguarded.
"'It is not possible to accurately predict any changes in future years but the current amendments are designed to put the scheme on a long-term sustainable basis and help the company and trustees achieve their sincere intention of continuing to provide a final-salary pension scheme for members of the Newsquest Pension Scheme'.
"Less than a year later, the trustees decided to sink 10 per cent of the pension scheme's assets into two hedge funds - a figure five times higher than most pension funds' holding in such funds - just as the world financial crisis reached a peak.
"Now, Newsquest plans to pull out of final-salary pension provision and leave its staff worse off in their old age.
"The company should return the loyalty its staff have shown and reconsider this short-sighted decision."