It now seems unavoidable that structural change will be introduced to the various pensions that rely for their employer covenant on the taxpayer. These include LGPS, the various unfunded government pensions and even the large corporate schemes such as the Royal Mail, BT and certain utilities where there is a captive consumer.
All of these organisations have labour issues in common, well organised unions, an expectation of a high level of pensions and historically poor labour relations.
When my car broke down on Friday, the AA man who came to fix it saw that I worked for a pensions firm and we got into a discussion. I wanted to know why members like him of the AA scheme voted for a pensions strike. His answers were fascinating,
He had little good to say of either the AA’s current owners or their previous owners (Centrica) but he said that at least when at Centrica he and his colleagues felt they could express their views.
I asked how they got their views across and was surprised to hear that it was through social websites organised by his union and by his mates. He said he regularly posted comments on pension issues and while he didn’t think his personal voice had been heard, he had felt that the groups he had joined had been heard both by Centrica and (eventually) by the AA’s current owners.
In his view, the ability to participate in debates and understand the issues was vital to him. Once he understood all the points of view, those of his fellow members, of the sponsor and of the trustees he had become a lot more comfortable with the changes being made to his pension benefits.
Listening to him the same arguments came up again and again
- He hadn’t the time to attend meetings or counselling but was prepared to log-on to electronic debates
- He did not want to put his views forward on sites controlled by his employer but valued independent discussion boards launched by the unions or by his colleagues (these included Facebook)
- He recognised the need for balanced debate.
This third point was most interesting of all. He had recognised that most debates started with rants from disaffected employees which, once members had run out of steam gave way to more moderate and constructive posts.
He described the classic “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” process that we learn about at college.
He was keen to point out that while he wanted his employer to be listening to the debate, he did not want it to try and influence the process which he told me had to be “organic”.
This resonates with my experience as an influencer. “Sell don’t tell” was the catchphrase of those who trained me. They explained that you influence people not by arguing but by getting your client to articulate objections, listening to the objections and allowing your clients to engage with your point of view for themselves.
As we contemplate the impact of industrial strife as the structural changes to pensions (and elsewhere) are rolled out, we need to be looking to the solutions that have worked. Perhaps this is one of them.