FT journalists in dispute with own press office over over claimed £5m pension cut

Financial Times journalists have stood by their claim that new owner Nikkei is seeking to take £5m a year out of their pensions after the company yesterday described this as “categorically untrue”.

Some 240 staff on final salary pension schemes have been told that they will switch to an alternative pension, which does not offer a guaranteed payout.

Figures seen by Press Gazette suggest this will save at least £4m a year for the first four years, rising to £5m a year.

The FT said in a statement yesterday: “The suggestion that the new pension plan has been 'designed to take £4m to £5m' from those staff on a final salary pension scheme is categorically untrue. The changes are about supporting the long-term strength and sustainability of the FT and building a consistent plan for all employees.”

But an NUJ chapel spokesperson told Press Gazette: "The £5m figure is in a document given to pensions reps by HR. The total pensions bill per annum is £15m and it is going down to £11m. After four years, the £4m saving rises to £5m.

"We've asked the question, where are the bulk of these savings coming from? And it is from the defined benefit scheme members. I can't think of any justification for their statement that it is not true."

At a further FT staff meeting with a reported attendance of around 120 yesterday, FT chief executive John Ridding and editor Lionel Barber were asked by NUJ representative Steve Bird: “Will you undertake to ensure that no member of staff is financially worse off as a result of the Nikkei takeover?" 

He was reportedly told this was "work in progress" and that the board was "trying to address this".

NUJ members at the FT remain concerned by the refusal of new owners Nikkei to meet them and by what they see as a lack of consultation over pension changes.

An NUJ chapel spokesman said yesterday: “The FT has refused our request to meet directly with Nikkei, they have refused to set up formal consultations for the 900 staff on DC [defined contribution pension] schemes, even though they will have to leave one pension scheme and have to join another with no idea of costs or governance.

“We are supporting many journalists who are refusing to meet Deloitte in one to one advice sessions because they are not independent, Deloitte are the paid advisers to Nikkei and the FT over the deal."

Nikkei's £844m purchase of FT Group is set to be completed next month.

The FT press office also disputed a claim from the National Union of Journalists that 300 attended a staff meeting last week to discuss the pension changes, saying in fact there were 150 there. An NUJ spokesman insisted that the 300 figure was correct and provided more pictures as evidence (above).

An FT spokesperson said yesterday: “The changes are about supporting the long-term strength and sustainability of the FT and building a consistent plan for all employees.

"Any savings will go toward additional contributions to those affected, investment in the business for the benefit of all, and offsetting costs now borne by the FT, which were previously borne by Pearson." 

The FT said it was "misleading" to say Nikkei had refused to meet FT staff. A spokesperson said: "Staff have had hours of face time with FT management in these consultation sessions and outside them. Since the announcement of the sale, Nikkei has been very respectful of the FT's independence and both the FT and Nikkei believe it is desirable for these discussions to be led by the FT's own management."

On the fact that staff feel there has been a lack of consultation over pension scheme changes, the FT spokesperson said: "For those staff currently on a defined contribution plan (80 per cent of UK employees and a larger proportion of global staff), the proposed new plan is comparable to the defined contribution sections of the Pearson Group Pension Plan.

"We are discussing the proposed new DC plan with all members, asking them to be involved in the discussions, to ask questions, get information and provide feedback through channels such as the NUJ or Unite Union, employee representatives and the FT’s HR team.

"Forums are starting this week to give all staff an opportunity to meet with our pension experts on an individual basis.  If there are still questions, we have agreed to provide sessions with independent financial advisors."

An FT spokesperson said today: "All employment-related matters are, and have always been, managed by the FT. Pearson was never previously involved in these types of discussions. 

"Staff have full access to FT management as well as an opportunity to meet with pension experts on an individual basis.

"We are listening to all concerns and will consider each of them. Our intention is to take the time that is needed to achieve the best arrangements and to make sure all our staff have the opportunity to raise any questions directly or through the groups and forums we are organising.

"The plan is not designed to cut costs. The pension changes we are proposing are about supporting the long-term strength and sustainability of the FT and offering a consistent plan for all employees. A part of the savings will be applied to provide an uplift in contributions for current active members of the defined benefit scheme. This is above and beyond what many organisations offer."

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