Beefeaters, Jewel House Wardens and other Historic Royal Palaces staff are to be balloted for strike action over proposed cuts to their pensions.
The GMB union, which represents employees of the independent charity that manages some of the UK’s unoccupied royal palaces, said a vote on walkouts would start this Friday.
A vote in favour of industrial action could see Beefeaters manning picket lines at some of London’s most popular tourist destinations including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace.
The GMB said its members were angry over plans by HRP to close their “defined benefit” scheme, which provides guaranteed pensions, and replace it with a riskier “defined contribution” arrangement that is less costly for businesses to provide.
“These members feel betrayed as they were promised they would continue to keep their pension when they were transferred from the civil service to the HRP in the late 1990s,” said Mick Ainsley, GMB regional officer. “They were told their pension was safe and they are now facing an income cut for life.”
About 50 members of the GMB union — who remained in the defined benefit scheme after it closed to new members in 2002 — will be balloted over two weeks, with any industrial action taking place in January. Unions representing other staff affected by the change are also understood to be considering industrial action.
Historic Royal Palaces manages the Tower of London, Kew Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House and Kensington Palace in London, as well as Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland. Industrial action would not affect the royal household said the GMB.
“Strike action is the last thing our members want to do, but HRP have left them with nowhere else to go,” said Mr Ainsley. “If they do vote for strikes, then there will be picket lines outside the palaces.”
HRP defended the move to end guaranteed pensions for about 120 staff saying its decision was not “taken lightly”.
“The scheme has become financially unsustainable, and the rising costs pose too great a risk for Historic Royal Palaces,” said John Barnes, chief executive.
“We need to act in the best interests of the charity and of the majority of our staff, who will all benefit from a 2 per cent increase in employer contributions to their pensions from April 2019 as part of the changes.”
Staff affected by the pension changes would receive compensation and transition arrangements that were “among the best in the market” and would join the same “competitive defined contribution scheme as their colleagues”, said HRP.
HRP downplayed the impact of any industrial action by GMB, saying only about 10 per cent of the charity’s 1,200-strong workforce was being balloted.
Plans to close the defined-benefit scheme, announced earlier this year, came as HRP had record visitor numbers to its palaces of 4.733m for 2017/18. Income for 2017/18 was £98m while expenditure was £95m, including pension contributions.
According to HRP’s most recent accounts, the DB scheme had a £4.8m deficit, as reported on its balance sheet. The charity, whose costs are met by self-generated income, made cash contributions of £1.8m into the fund.