Welsh steelworkers in pension fight fear being let down by future UK Labour government
Campaigners who have battled for pension justice for more than two decades say they have growing fears that a future UK Labour government will let them down.
In 2002 around 1,000 workers lost their jobs when the Cardiff steelmaking firm Allied Steel & Wire (ASW) went bust.
But they also stood to lose pensions they had paid into, in some cases for many years.
The last Labour government introduced a Financial Assistance Scheme that offered hope to workers like those from ASW whose company pension schemes were unable to meet their commitments.
Employees believed they would get the bulk of what they were entitled to.
But in practice there have been significant cash shortfalls, partly caused by the failure to take full account of inflation when calculating pension rates.
In some cases, pensioners are getting little more than half of what they expected.
The current Conservative government has made it clear that it won’t do more for those affected, so campaigners have recently turned their attention to Labour, believing the party is likely to come to power at Westminster after the next election.
Sir Keir Starmer
So far, however, they have been unsuccessful in their attempts to extract promises from Sir Keir Starmer and members of his shadow team.
Last month Rhys ab Owen, who was elected as a Plaid Cymru MS for South Wales Central in 2021, wrote to Sir Keir on behalf of the ASW pensioners.
He said in his letter: “This year it will be the 22nd year they are still being denied the pensions they were promised. These people believed their occupational pensions were safe and fully protected no matter what difficulties their employer faced.
“There were 140.000 pension victims in the Financial Assistance Scheme. Sadly 25.000 have already passed away, many not seeing a penny of the pensions they trustingly paid for, most of their working lives, including John (Johnny) Jones a former steelworker in Cardiff who sadly passed away earlier this month.
“The previous UK Labour government put a tax on occupational pensions, and with the help of [former Chancellor] George Osborne, the final figure stolen from these funds was £238bn. There were warnings by pension experts that workers could face an old age of financial pain and uncertainty.
“When the banks went bust, pensions were not safeguarded, but banks were bailed out 100% and inflation protected. My constituents wonder why workers were not treated with the same fairness.
“The pension campaigners feel their retirement dreams have been shattered for just putting their trust in UK Ministers.
“While I appreciate you are still formulating your policies for the next Westminster election, I wonder whether you could provide an indication of your thinking for my constituents.
“They need the pensions they were promised and paid 100% for. They would like to be treated with fairness by the next Labour UK government.
“I hope you agree that this is an injustice that has to be addressed. My constituents, rather than enjoying their retirement, have had to fight for the justice they rightfully deserve, not only for themselves but for thousands of others.
“The fight against this inhumane injustice has taken its toll on their health and has impacted their families.”
Cut and paste
John Benson, a former ASW worker who has been a leader of the pensions campaign, said: “Ever since the Conservatives attained power in 2010, we have asked them to support ASW steelworkers against the injustice, but all we have had from Conservative Ministers is cut and paste replies, saying they have no intention of helping us receive the pensions we paid for 100%.
“So I wrote to Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, and Sir Keir Starmer, plus virtually every Welsh Labour MP.
“I have been asking what is Labour’s position on our injustice if they attain power at the next election, but their front bench and their MPs have shamefully totally blanked me.
“So I asked Plaid Cymru MPs and Senedd Members if they could write to Sir Keir Starmer on our behalf. Like his fantastic father Owen John Thomas, who was an Assembly Member, Rhys had no problem writing to him, and he has done so much to help since becoming a member of the Senedd.
“But like myself Rhys has heard nothing and we are left wondering whether a future Labour government would help us at all.
“We should never still be fighting for what is rightfully ours, 22 years after ASW went into receivership. We should have been receiving our guaranteed pensions from day one.”
We asked UK Labour for a statement but did not receive a response.
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