RMT members covered by the Transport for London Pension Fund have voted by a massive 15-to-one margin for strike action to protect the pension rights of people forced to leave their jobs through ill-health.
The union is calling on the employers involved (list below) to guarantee that they will not bring forward or support proposed changes that would dramatically affect qualification for ill-health pensions.
At present, ill-health pensions are granted to workers in the TfL fund whose ill-health makes them unfit to do their particular job. Proposed changes would mean that anyone capable of earning an income, regardless of how small, would probably not qualify for or retain an ill-health pension.
"This ballot result shows what our members think of a plan that would deprive most people who leave work through ill-health of their pensions," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.
"Our members have made it crystal clear that they are prepared to take strike action to defend their hard-won pension rights.
"Rather than laying siege to employees who suffer ill-health the trustees should simply scrap the fund rule that allows annual review of ill-health pensions.
"We do not want to have to bat these changes away time after time, and we are seeking guarantees from all the employers involved that they will not seek or back cost-cutting changes that will undermine ill-health benefits," Bob Crow said.
In the ballot that closed July 24th, 3,141 (93.7%) voted for strike action, and 212 (6.3%) against. The employers involved are: London Underground, TfL, Metronet, Tubelines, Cubic Transportation, REW and EDF Energy.
At present if medical evidence indicates that a member is unfit to do his or her own job, an ill-health pension would be granted. That pension is based upon length of fund membership, plus up to ten additional years' service. The pension may be suspended if the individual recovers to 100 per cent fitness, or revised to reflect an income. Where an income is earned, if the income plus TfL pension is greater than that of their previous job, the pension is reduced so that the individual's overall earnings are not greater.
TfL management's favoured proposal would see ill-health pensions split into two parts: a basic pension and an additional ill-health supplement. If the individual recovers, the ill-health supplement would be withdrawn, which would mean that individuals under 50 (or 55 from 2010) would be unable to continue drawing their basic pension.
Crucially, the test for receiving an ill-health pension would be changed to an 'all-work' test rather than the current 'own-job' test, which would leave the majority of those leaving employment due to ill-health facing the prospect of their pension being stopped because they would not be totally incapacitated.
A train operator who developed eyesight problems, for example, would be unable to continue in employment as a train operator but would not receive an ill-health pension under the proposed changes if he or she remained fit for some other form of work.
The employers have sought to exploit inconsistencies between the TfL Pension Fund Office's Guidelines on ill-health pensions and the existing Scheme Rules. However, the union has proposed that the Scheme rules be amended in line with the Fund Office Guidelines (which also reflect members' conditions of service), and that the current rule, 19 (5), which allows review of ill-health pensions, simply be abolished.