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More must be done on miners’ pension fund

The 50/50 split of the miners' pension surplus should be renegotiated to be more equitable, says Peter Stefanovic

8 September 2016

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Recently I was contacted by Les Moore, an ex-miner whose story of injustice sent my emotions rocketing. Generations of brave miners paid into a pension fund with their blood, sweat, and tears, many with their lives. All sacrificed their health, some suffering a slow and lingering death because of their working conditions, and they did it because they wanted a better quality of life for themselves and their families upon retirement.

In 1994, when the coal industry was privatised under John Major's premiership, a deal was struck which has enabled successive governments to take a staggering £8bn from the miners' pension fund, leaving miners and their families destitute. The government agreed to underwrite the fund on the condition it could take 50 per cent of any surplus. The deal, which the Treasury has recently confirmed in response to a miner's freedom of information request, has not cost the government a penny, while at the same time it has bailed out the banks with taxpayers' money.

The pieces of how this came to pass are still being put together, but on the face of it this is a disgraceful state of affairs. There are many unanswered questions which Les and his group, the UK Miners Pension Scheme for Justice, are still trying to answer. Was there an actuary report shared with the trustees? Did they get a report of their own? If not, why not: surely there would have been a fiduciary duty on their part to get one? Why was the deal not put to the miners?

A public inquiry is surely needed. The 50/50 split of the pension surplus should be renegotiated to be more equitable. This can be done with the agreement of the government and the trustees. This deal was never going to be a risk for the government because sadly our miners have a short life expectancy on retirement.

Les and his group came to me because of a lack of publicity over this issue, with little or no interest from the mainstream media. As lawyers I believe we have a duty to speak out on any injustice, whatever our area of specialisation. Moreover, we must be proactive; if we don't who will? You can help our miners and their families by supporting the group and joining the miners' rally in Derby Square, Liverpool, at midday on 27 September. I will be speaking along with many others at what is expected to be the largest gathering of miners, their families, and supporters since the 1980s.

Peter Stefanovic is a solicitor

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Pensions