The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) is to slash the pensions of staff who tend the cemeteries of the war dead.
The CWGC is pressing ahead to break the final salary linkage for the calculation of benefits from March 2016 despite opposition from unions.
Unite, Public and Commercial Services (PCS) and Prospect have described the £6,000-a-year cut as a scandal.
“The pension scheme has always been a way of attracting and retaining staff,” said Julia Long, Unite national officer.
“When they signed up to work for the commission it was part of their package,” she added.
The CWGC wants to auto-enrol the 180 active members of the scheme into an alternative Group Personal Pension (GPP) which will mean far less pension for staff when they retire.
“Now they face having up to £6,000 slashed from their pension while the director general of the commission Victoria Wallace receives more than the prime minister – a very lavish £160,000-a-year. It is a scandal,” added Julia.
The unions have made counter proposals, such as raising the member’s contributions from 1.5 per cent to five per cent over the next two years, recognising that the scheme has a £2.4m deficit. But the CWGC bosses have rejected the unions’ alternatives.
“Our members face an old age of grinding poverty,” said Julia.
“We want to put pressure on the CWGC to review its decision and consider the alternatives put forward by the union,” she added.
The CWGC cares for the graves and memorials to almost 1.7m Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars, and works at 23,000 locations in 153 countries on every continent except Antarctica.
“As we remember and reflect on the terrible loss of life in the world wars, it is grossly insulting for the commission to seek to cut the pensions of low paid staff who tend the graves of the war dead,” said Paul O’Connor, PCS head of bargaining.
“These proposals must be withdrawn so that we can properly negotiate changes that are acceptable to staff,” he added.
Next year the country will mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme which saw 60,000 casualties on day one.
“The commission’s staff perform a vital role in ensuring dignity for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and for their families,” said David Luxton, Prospect national secretary.
“The unions have put forward constructive alternative proposals that would reduce the commission’s pension costs and risks, and would deal with the scheme’s deficit, but these have been rejected by the commissioners,” he added.