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Call for justice in steelworkers’ ‘pension theft’ scandal

21 Jun 2024 4 minute read
Staff at Allied Steel and Wire (ASW) in Cardiff lost their pensions when the company collapsed in 2002

Chris Haines ICNN Senedd reporter

A Senedd member called on the next UK Government to finally put an end to the “theft” of steelworkers’ pensions following a two-decade campaign for justice.

Rhys ab Owen said staff at Allied Steel and Wire (ASW) in Cardiff lost their pensions when the company collapsed in 2002, making thousands of people unemployed.

Leading a Senedd debate, he said: “This meant that it was no longer about fairness, or what pensioners were owed, but whatever the scheme could afford to pay out.

“’Wind up’ is one term for it – an aptly named term, perhaps – another term is ‘pension theft’, and I believe that is a far more effective term.”

“The ASW workers were not the first nor the last to experience this injustice, this gutting of their pensions. Wind-ups were increasingly common in the early 2000s and punished those who were most loyal and hard-working.”

‘Measly’

Mr ab Owen, who sits as an independent, said the then-Labour UK Government’s financial assistance scheme had an arbitrary maximum payout of 90% of the pension value.

“This meant pensioners lost 10% of their pensions from the get-go,” he explained. “Then more due to inflation, and on top of it all, many had to pay tax on the measly sum.

“For workers who had worked for decades – slaving away day after day in dangerous work –  it is no wonder this faulty scheme led to protests across the UK.”

The South Wales Central MS warned that many pensioners have still not been offered compensation despite a parliamentary ombudsman report and a Court of Appeal case.

“Do we really need another ITV drama to resolve this scandal?” he asked, appearing to refer  to Mr Bates vs The Post Office which brought the Horizon scandal to life.

‘Struggle’

His father – Owen John Thomas, a former Plaid Cymru politician, who represented the same region in the then-Assembly – was involved in the steelworkers’ campaign from the outset.

Mr ab Owen paid tribute to his father in a statement to the Senedd in the days following his death in May, saying it was characteristic of him to put other people and the country first.

During the debate on June 21, he said: “This struggle for Cardiff workers has lasted so long that it’s been through two generations of the Thomas family, my father being a constant voice in this battle from which I am glad to take on the mantle.”

The former barrister and law lecturer warned countless workers have died waiting for their pensions to be restored, with some unable to pay for their own funerals.

“Some have, tragically, taken their own lives waiting to find justice,” he said. “This is a scandal still unresolved, a scandal that has been going on for 22 years; widows still paying mortgages that should have been paid off decades ago.”

‘Injustice’

Expecting a Labour landslide in the general election on July 4, Mr ab Owen asked: “Will the party founded and funded over the years by the workers, will they finally give the ASW steelworkers and their families the money that they are owed?”

Adam Price said it was fitting for the debate to take place next door to Tŷ Hywel where the steelworkers’ journey for justice began in a meeting organised by Mr ab Owen’s father.

He told the chamber or Siambr: “Time after time, the story of capitalism in these islands –  and the story of the failure of our democracy – is the story of pension scandals….

“It says something about these countries in the UK – the way we treat our workers, our older workers in retirement. It’s that moral question this incoming Labour Government now faces.”

The former MP and Plaid Cymru leader welcomed a pledge in Labour’s manifesto on miners’ pensions, calling for an equal commitment to former steelworkers.

‘Betrayal’

Sarah Murphy, responding for the Welsh Government, acknowledged the injustice the Allied Steel and Wire pensioners have faced.

The minister pointed out that pension powers are not devolved as she called on the UK Government to “do the right thing and give restorative justice” to former ASW workers.

She told the Senedd: “We are disappointed the UK Government has failed to secure the pensions justice for the former ASW workers that they deserve.

“I recognise the sense of betrayal that they must feel….

“These pensions are not a gift; they are deferred salary. The contributions were made in good faith by ASW workers in the expectation that they would receive security in retirement – not just for them, but also for their families.

“Those contributions should be honoured and honoured in full.”


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