Koushik Chatterjee, Tata Steel's group executive director
INDIAN steel giant Tata Steel is set for what are believed to be crunch talks with trade union representatives of its UK steelworks to settle the deadlock over a £15 billion pension scheme for its workers, the main obstacle in its merger with German rival ThyssenKrupp.
The company has reportedly called two days of pension talks to try to secure a merger of its European operations with those of ThyssenKrupp.
According to ‘The Sunday Times’, the main focus will be on breaking a deadlock over a £15 billion pension scheme – the main obstacle to a rescue of its Port Talbot unit in Wales.
A source close to the talks told the newspaper that Tata Steel and ThyssenKrupp could formalise the deal within weeks, even if the pension issue has not been resolved, but the tie-up would be contingent on resolving the pensions dispute.
The British Steel Pension Scheme is in huge deficit and Tata and ThyssenKrupp are reluctant to saddle their new joint venture with the pensions of 130,000 retired and working members.
The government under former Prime Minister David Cameron had proposed a law change to reduce payouts by altering the inflation link for rises.
However, the new Theresa May led government is not in favour of the plan.
The required change to the UK Pensions Act 1995 would probably have faced heavy opposition in the House of Commons because of fears of setting a precedent for other companies that want to offload their final salary pension burdens.
Tata Steel said it “continues to responsibly develop options to identify the best prospects for the future sustainability of our UK operations and the best outcome for members of the British Steel Pension Scheme”.