Steelworkers in Motherwell will ballot for industrial action this week in order to defend the British Steel Pension Scheme.
Tata Steel is proposing to close the scheme to future accrual, which would hit around 270 workers at the Lanarkshire plants of Dalzell and Clydebridge.
The Community union, which represents the majority of steelworkers affected, is urging its members to vote for strike action and action short of strike action.
General Secretary Roy Rickhuss said: “The British Steel Pension Scheme has provided dignity and security in retirement for generations of Lanarkshire steelworkers.
“The BSPS is vitally important to thousands of current and former steelworkers, providing certainty for families and helping to sustain steel communities such as Motherwell.
“This will no longer be the case if Tata are able to close the scheme. That’s why we are urging our members to stand up for their pensions and vote ‘yes yes’ in the ballot.
“‘Yes’ to strike action and ‘yes’ to action short of strike action. This is not a situation we wanted to be in but Tata’s decision to close the scheme is unnecessary and unjustified.
“It’s not just our members who are opposed to the scheme closure, it’s uniting their families and communities in opposition to Tata too.”
Current pensioners and deferred pensioners are not affected by Tata’s proposed changes to the scheme, but Frank Roy, a former steelworker and Labour candidate for Motherwell and Wishaw, still believes Tata should think again.
He said: “As a former steelworker I know just how important the British Steel Pension Scheme is to people in Motherwell and Wishaw.
“I was proud to ‘Stand up for Steel’ in Parliament, calling on the Scottish and Westminster governments to take action to support the steel industry in Scotland.
“I’m now proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with the steelworkers of Dalzell and Clydebridge as they stand up for their pensions.
“Tata should think again about the impact of what it’s doing. After decades of loyal service in heavy industry, steelworkers deserve certainty and decency in retirement.
“The workers and their unions have my full support in their defence of the British Steel Pension Scheme.”
According to the fund’s 2013/14 annual report BSPS had a £1.1bn deficit in March 2013 when measured on an on-going basis.
Although Tata is legally obliged to pay for the deficit unions put forward the possibility of meeting it through changes to member benefits, but this was rejected by the company who claimed it would mean younger staff losing out.
A Tata Steel spokesman said: “We started discussions with our UK unions last year about the need to modify our final salary pension scheme because of the scheme’s increasing deficit.
“The unsustainable growth in the deficit is mainly due to people living longer and low returns in the financial markets.
“We proposed modifications to the final salary pension scheme which would have enabled it to remain open to future accrual.
“However, agreement could not be reached with the unions, which prompted the start of a consultation process on proposals to switch the majority of UK employees to different, though still very competitive, pension arrangements.
“We are now fully consulting with employees about these proposed changes. This consultation provides opportunities for employees to comment and express opinions that they wish the company to consider. We will consider employees’ views before making a final decision.
“Tata Steel remains open to unconditional talks with the unions to find resolutions to the very substantial challenges facing the pension scheme.”
A total of 17,000 workers across the UK will receive ballot papers.