Journalists on the Financial Times could take industrial action on the first day of Nikkei's ownership amid concerns over changes to their pensions. (Current FT building pictured, Reuters)
The FT's National Union of Journalists Father of Chapel Steve Bird said: "I haven't seen this kind of anger at the FT in 20 years."
Nikkei agreed to pay Pearson £844m for the Financial Times Group in July and is expected to complete the deal next month (November).
The chapel last week revealed plans to take £5m a year out of staff pensions. 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.
But the FT's press office described the claims by its journalists as "categorically untrue".
In response to this story, the press office said: "We stand by the statement that it is categorically untrue that the new pension plan is being designed to cut costs.
"It has never been the objective of FT management or Nikkei to cut costs through pension changes. This proposal is about supporting the long-term strength and sustainability of the FT, and building a consistent and fair scheme for all of our people. Part of the savings generated by the changes to the DB system will be used to provide additional contributions to alleviate the impact on those affected, and Nikkei has been very clear that all savings will be invested entirely back into the business. We have a responsibility to ensure the long term success of the FT in a challenging and competitive industry."
In a statement released by the NUJ on Monday, Bird said: "Staff are in open revolt over plans to cut the cost of pensions by at least £4m a year. Hundreds of senior staff will see their pensions cut by up to a half in order to pay rent on the FT building. Whatever financial constraints Nikkei have placed on the FT are being passed on to the journalists."
The FT chapel Twitter account has also released documents it says supports its claims.
— FT NUJ Chapel (@ftnuj) October 18, 2015
Bird said: "Senior staff are joining the NUJ and members of commercial teams are joining Unite in order to take industrial action. This extends from the top of the organisation down. If Nikkei doesn't act, the first day after the takeover could be a day of industrial action.
"Despite misleading comments from the FT press office and suggestions by HR that the pensions offer is generous, we remain committed to negotiations with FT managers but staff will not accept anything less than the fair and equivalent terms promised by senior managers on the day the sale to Nikkei was announced. Our request to deal directly with Nikkei has been refused as has our request for formal consultations over changes to the defined contribution (DC) scheme."
On this point the FT said in a statement: "We have been asked why Nikkei is not present in the pension consultation discussions. All employment-related matters are, and have always been, managed by the FT. Pearson was never previously involved in these types of discussions, and both we and Nikkei believe it is therefore desirable for these discussions to be led by the FT’s own management."
The NUJ said a meeting today (21 October) is likely to endorse a motion passed at an open meeting of 300 employees on Wednesday 7 October that voted in support of industrial action.
The union said: "One pensions rep involved in negotiations suggested that either Nikkei should set up an interim scheme or that Pearson should offer to extend the existing scheme to avoid FT journalists being put into auto-enrolment pensions on the day the deal with Nikkei is signed."
The union reported the rep as saying: "After owning us for 50 years, it is unconscionable that Pearson should look away as staff are put into auto-enrolment limbo while talks continue over the future of our pensions. Nikkei needs to act to avoid a car crash."
The NUJ added: "Pensions reps plan to build a case for a sustainable defined benefit scheme and better terms for defined contribution and auto enrolment members as part of a counter-offer to FT managers."
The FT has denied staff will be put on to auto-enrolment.
It said i: "It is important we take the time to get this right. However, no one will be disadvantaged by a delay. In the event that we do not conclude consultations by the completion of the sale, the FT has no intention of creating a situation in which staff could miss out on pension contributions. We will, therefore, ensure that there are contingency plans in place to provide continuous pension provision that will comply with statutory requirements to automatically enrol staff into a pension scheme. Once the consultation is concluded and the new FT plan is established, we would back date any shortfall in contributions to the sale completion date and seek to mitigate any 'loss' in investment returns or adverse tax consequences."
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said: “From day one this has been a fundamentally flawed consultation process, formally excluding members of the DC scheme and only putting forward proposals through a narrow prism of market comparison.
"The FT, Nikkei and Pearson badly need to find a way out of the corner they have boxed themselves into.
"Put simply this smash and grab raid on pensions must stop; existing schemes should continue until agreement has been reached over future pension provision for all. It would be foolish if the timetable for the sale turned what should be the positive start of a new era for Nikkei into a major public dispute.”
The Financial Times press office added: "We recognise the importance of independent, expert guidance, and have already made expert pensions advice available to all of our staff. We have also listened to requests for staff to have access to a second independent pensions expert. We have this week outlined two further measures to assure people that we will work collaboratively to put in place the fairest and best scheme possible:
"We will pay a sum, for every current active member of the Pearson Plan, towards advice with a second independent financial advisor. This allows people the option of arranging a session with the adviser of their choice to discuss their pension. We will cover the cost of this for each DB and DC member.
- "We are consulting with staff representatives about bringing in an additional senior pensions expert to review the overall proposals. They will report openly on whether the proposals meet our objectives of providing a fair and high quality pension scheme for all staff."