The National Union of Journalists has condemned plans by regional publishing group Newsquest to close its final salary pension scheme.
The union today called on the publisher to reconsider its proposal as it accused it of breaking promises made over pensions.
Newsquest chief executive Paul Davidson is understood to have written to members of the scheme over the weekend informing them that the company had started a 60-day consultation over the proposed closure.
The scheme has been closed to new members for some years, but under the new proposals journalists and other staff already in the scheme will stop accruing final salary benefits.
The union has called on the company, which is owned by US newspaper giant Gannett, to start a ‘meaningful national collective consultation’about planned changes.
Bob Smith, father of the NUJ’s Newsquest group chapel, said the plans represented a ‘huge blow’to loyal staff who had already suffered a two-year pay freeze.
“Sadly, the company’s commitment to its staff has not matched that of its workers to Newsquest and journalism,’Smith said.
‘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.”
Smith noted that in 2007, the pension trustees said: “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.”
The union said the 2007 changes should have led to a phased 60 per cent increase in pension contributions by members of the scheme, with the original contribution of six per cent of salary rising to ten per cent to ensure the scheme’s longevity.
“Less than a year later, the trustees decided to sink ten 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,’Smith said.
“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.”
Press Gazette contacted Newsquest this morning and was told that Davidson was not available and that nobody else was able to comment on the company’s behalf.
The NUJ said its Newsquest members would meet next month to co-ordinate a response.