Former Midland Bank workers, activists and their supporters descended on HSBC’s AGM today (April 12) in Birmingham to demand justice in their fight against a practice that will slash pension pots for some of the bank’s lowest paid staff.
Two years ago, staff who worked between 1975 and 1996 for Midland Bank, now part of HSBC, discovered to their shock that once reaching state retirement age, the bank could strip up to £2,500 from loyal workers’ retirement income each year.
Today, former and current staff, Unite members, protested against this practice, known as clawback, where employers reduce, or ‘claw back’ their former workers’ pensions by the basic state pension amount once they reach state pension age.
The workers, mostly women who took time out of their careers to raise children, are angry that the bank failed to inform them of this policy and now face losing up to a third of their pension.
Unite has highlighted the campaigners’ plight in a new video launched today (April 12) to coincide with the protest:
Among those attending today’s protest was Maria Hipkiss, 62, who spent more than four decades working for Midland Bank. Now, through clawback, she stands to lose more than £1,400 a year once she hits state pension age at 66.
“We absolutely loved working for the bank – it was like being part of a family,” Maria told UNITElive. “We were loyal staff who were very dedicated to the work we did. To be repaid for this loyalty with our pensions being slashed like this is a massive betrayal.”
Maria (pictured below), from the Midlands region, said she was motivated to attend the event in support of other colleagues who will be hit even harder by clawback than she is.
“I’m one of the lucky ones in that my husband still works,” Maria explained. “But I know a colleague who will have £1,000 deducted from her £3,000 pension pot each year. It’s is outrageously unfair that clawback hits the lowest paid workers hardest.”
“What’s even more galling is that the vast majority of companies have done away with clawback altogether, or like Barclays, have placed a cap on how much can be clawed back. It’s an outdated practice and it’s not right.”
Maria, who thanked Unite, the media, campaigners, MPs and others who have supported their cause, said she was especially hopeful after today’s demonstration.
“The demo was brilliant – hundreds came out to support us and we drew significant media attention as well, from the BBC and others,” she said. “We got our message out and we suitably embarrassed the bank.”
Demonstrators, wearing ‘clawback’ costumes, held placards and leafletted attendees of the AGM this morning, asking them to vote in favour of resolution put forward by the Midland Clawback Campaign shareholder group, which calls on HSBC to address clawback.
“I leafletted some ‘higher-ups’ in the bank who told me personally that they would be supporting us in the resolution,” Maria told UniteLive. “They said ‘we don’t need the money’. Even people high up in the bank see the unfairness of clawback.”
Many Midland Clawback campaigners are themselves HSBC shareholders, who participated in this afternoon’s AGM.
The campaigners put forward two questions at the meeting calling on HSBC to see sense and take action on clawback.
“Our questions prompted the loudest cheers of the day,” said Midland Clawback Campaign organiser and Unite member Sharon McGeough-Adams. “Although we did not secure enough support for our resolution to pass – which we expected, given the board had advised shareholders to vote against it – the board was visibly uncomfortable. We got our message across, that’s for sure.”
Sharon said that today was only one stepping stone in their fight for justice.
“It’s onwards and upwards from here. The support we had at the demo was tremendous and heart-warming. Our message to HSBC is that we will be back next year and the year after and the year after that if we need to be. We will keep this issue alive in the public eye until they right this injustice. We are not going away.”
Unite national officer Dominic Hook (pictured below) hailed today’s demonstration, calling it an “important step forward in this campaign for pensions justice”.
“The demonstration was very well attended – we had people come from as far away as Cornwall and other parts of the country. The campaign successfully highlighted the iniquities inherent in clawback,” he said.
“It is disgraceful that this profitable and wealthy multi-national bank is withholding from pensioners a significant amount of their pension,” Hook added. “These pensioners worked hard to earn this income for their retirement.
“Unite is calling on HSBC to address the practice of clawback which not only disproportionately penalises the lowest paid but also mainly female employees.”
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail likewise praised the campaigners, and also highlighted the discriminatory nature of HSBC’s clawback.
“The HSBC pension justice campaign is fighting against an inherently sexist move against a largely female workforce,” she said. “Foremost amongst the institutions with the widest gender pay gap by a country mile are banks within which women are clustered in the lowest paid roles. Add to this lip service when it comes to measures to end pregnancy discrimination and flexible work for carers, it is unsurprising that HSBC is dragging its feet to reverse the clawback.
“What I don’t believe HSBC expected was the resilience and fortitude of those campaigning to right this wrong,” she added. “My advice is sort this out and tackle institutional sexism.”
- Pics: Mark Harvey