FT buyer Nikkei accused by journalists of £5m a year raid on their pensions - Press Gazette

FT buyer Nikkei accused by journalists of £5m a year raid on their pensions

Financial Times journalists have accused new owner Nikkei of breaking promises and seeking to take £5m a year out of staff pension schemes.

The Japanese publisher is proposing to close the current final salary pension scheme to existing members, switching them instead over to a defined contribution scheme. Staff believe the move will slash pension entitlement for the 240 staff in the final salary scheme, which awards members a guaranteed proportion of their final salary on retirement. These staff represent around 20 per cent of the total.

Nikkei agreed in July to pay Pearson £844m for the FT Group.

At the time, the publisher promised to provide "fair and equivalent" terms and conditions for all staff. However, two weeks after the takeover was announced, the word “equivalent” was removed from an HR online information sheet on the deal, according to the NUJ.

According to the NUJ some 300 attended a meeting of the FT NUJ chapel last week to discuss the proposed changes and they passed the following motion:

"We do not believe that Nikkei and the FT should build a joint future on broken promises.

"The FT must honour its commitment to fair and equivalent terms and conditions for all staff after the takeover. The present offer on pensions is very far from this.

“We are very concerned at the suggestion that staff will be left in pensions limbo on auto-enrolment should the FT-Nikkei deal be signed before any agreement on new pension schemes has been completed. We would actively support any staff choosing to take industrial action in defence of these principles."

The FT press office said they believed there were 150 at the meeting in question.

The deal for Nikkei to buy the FT is set to be completed at the end of November.

FT journalists say they have sought a meeting with Nikkei management, but so far they have only been allowed to negotiate with their representatives from consultants Deloitte.

NUJ representatives are also concerned by what they see as a failure to consult over changes to the main staff pension scheme. The pension scheme is currently run by Pearson and Nikkei want to move staff over to an independent provider.

FT NUJ father of chapel Steve Bird said: "No member of FT staff should be disadvantaged financially by this takeover. We hope that Nikkei managers will come to the negotiating table and make good on assurances that they will treat staff fairly as part of the Nikkei ‘family’ and on terms equivalent to those under Pearson."

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This shabby treatment of staff is far from the behaviour we’d expect from a FTSE 100 company. It is vital that Nikkei now involves itself properly in this consultation process and demonstrates to FT staff that they will be treated fairly and equitably. The main asset Nikkei is buying is the talented and committed team of staff who make the FT such an attractive acquisition – treating them with respect and fairness and not jeopardising their goodwill should be Nikkei’s overriding priority if the sale is to conclude smoothly.”

The Financial Times said in a statement: "The Financial Times will no longer be part of the Pearson Group following the sale to Nikkei. As a result, we are reviewing our pensions, ill-health and death benefit plans. Our goal is to provide the best pension arrangement for our people that is consistent across the company and sustainable for the business."

UPDATE (2.20pm)

In a further statement the FT said: "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.

"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 the point in the above report about FT staff being denied a meeting with Nikkei was "misleading". 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 this: "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."



Press Gazette's must-read weekly newsletter featuring interviews, data, insight and investigations.

Author: Dominic Ponsford

Dominic Ponsford is the editor of Press Gazette