Three quarters of Uber workers are muslim; they have no Sharia investment option.

People reading this headline will be entitled to ask, how did that happen? Workplace pensions are chosen by employers, or in the case of Uber, by their “workplace solutions” provider.

Did Uber choose NOW Pensions or did Uber follow Adecco? I asked this question at the time last autumn when Uber announced its workers would be enrolled into NOW.

Drivers will be auto-enrolled in a pension scheme provided by NOW: Pensions, and managed by leading workplace solutions provider Adecco. Uber will contribute 3% of a driver’s earnings into a pension pot, while drivers can choose to contribute a minimum of 5% of qualifying earnings.

Adecco’s relationship with Now is a long one. This press release is from 2013.

Adecco Group has appointed NOW: Pensions to provide its workplace pension scheme under auto enrolment. From March 2013, the independent multi-employer trust will be responsible for providing the workplace pension for its workforce of approximately 23,000 employees who are eligible for auto enrolment

At the time, an Adecco spokesperson was keen to work with the bright new start in pensions;

With the face of the pensions landscape changing, it was important for us to select the right pension scheme in order to meet our auto-enrolment obligations. Opting for a defined contribution multi-employer trust, in the form of NOW: Pensions, was therefore a straight forward choice given it is overseen by a Board of Trustees whose role is to ensure good governance and safeguard the best interest of its members. Furthermore, its simple design means the pressure is taken off us as the employer and avoids costly administration charges, whilst removing the burden of choice and ensuring the best possible retirement outcome for our employees.”

But that “burden of choice” is not removed for muslims , who are required to invest according to religious principles.

NOW has long enjoyed a relationship with Adecco as this tedious homily attests

Alex Fleming, Regional President of Northern Europe at Adecco, said: “We are really pleased to be partnering with Uber on their pension scheme for flexible workers in the PHV industry. As the UK labour market continues to be redefined as a result of the global pandemic, the need for equitable treatment and greater security is integral to building back better and supporting flexible workers. This is an industry first that not only paves the way in improving workers’ rights and protections, but also contributes to sustainable futures for drivers.”

But do Uber workers enjoy the right to invest according to religious conviction and can NOW, Adecco and Uber be said to be protecting muslim worker’s rights?

NOW has enjoyed the support of the unions, it originally boasted Lord John Monks as a Trustee Director and has today former TUC pension supremo Joanne Segars as Trustee Chair. All of which should make for harmonious relationships between pension and members. Indeed the GMB hailed “Uber’s pension scheme” a step in the right direction…

Mick Rix, GMB National Officer, said: “Uber’s pension scheme is a massive step in the right direction and will no doubt help thousands of drivers as they reach retirement age. GMB urges other platform-based operators to follow Uber’s lead.”

Presumably the GMB were unaware of the pension arrangement that Uber or Adecco had chosen.

Sadly , all this “virtue signalling” missed one important element , the particular needs of Uber’s workforce.  According to Uber’s other union ADCU, up to 75 per cent of UK Uber drivers are estimated to be Muslims, and the failure of Uber to provide a Sharia-compliant pensions option effectively means that the majority will be forced out of participation in the pension scheme

Which is resulting in an immediate threat of legal action

So for whom is this a problem?

Adecco are responsible for the original choice of NOW pensions.

Uber are responsible for the choice of Adecco

The GMB welcomed the use of NOW pensions for the pension contributions of members who were Uber workers

NOW pensions have made a statement through Adrian Boulding , who has the unenviable job of explaining how NOW are dealing with the multiple problems they have created for themselves over the past ten years.

Speaking to Pension Expert’s sister paper, the FT, he explained

“We don’t currently have a sharia-compliant fund but we are always keen to respond to member views,” ….“We are looking to launch this option for our members later this spring.”

As will be seen in a moment, Adrian  is repeating a promise made to the same paper, nine years before. NOW seems better at making promises than keeping them. So what has happened since NOW launched in 2012

NOW pensions currently has two million members (stats courtesy of Pensions Expert).

The UK currently has 4.4m muslims  (4.4% of the population).

But only 5.5% of muslims are members of the professional and managerial class. Nearly half live in he 10% most deprived local authorities and it is no surprise at all that workers in the gig economy are often drawn from this group.

It is reasonable to suppose that NOW pensions has a higher percentage of Muslims than most master trusts, unlike many of its competitors, it does not underwrite the employer propositions it takes on, it is therefore more likely to take on non professional or managerial employees.

This looks like a case of NOW, Adecco, Uber and the Pensions Regulator all ignoring the same thing – the needs of the people who are doing the pension saving.

What does all his tell us?

The needs of those with conviction, whether religious or otherwise often require money to be managed in a different way. We have known about this for centuries.

It is not enough for schemes such as NOW to be “responsive” only when threatened with legal action. They are responsible for meeting their membership’s needs. NOW changed ownership some years ago, since Cardano took the management of the scheme over, some aspects of the scheme have improved, but clearly not all. Trustees are responsible for meeting member’s needs.

What is more, the Pensions Regulator is responsible for making sure that member’s needs are being met. TPR have issued a statement to the FT on the NOW situation.

“We’re determined to build a workplace pensions system that works for everyone. That’s why we encourage employers to consider the particular needs of all their workforce when choosing a pension scheme and there are many available that offer sharia pension funds as an option.”

Can you really run a pension scheme for 2m people and expect none of them to have the conviction that their money be run under the principles of Sharia Law?

I had this conversation with NOW pensions back in 2013 when we were researching the master trusts for their capacity to accommodate those with a belief in Sharia. At the time I was told that rather than make the NOW pension default a Sharia fund, a Sharia alternative would be made available when needed.

Former CEO of NOW and now CEO of BT Morten Nilsson

This was later confirmed to the press when its CEO told Pension Expert

we do not want any members to lose out on the benefits of auto-enrolment due to not being able to invest in a sharia-compliant fund, therefore external due diligence has been conducted on behalf of the trustees to appoint a provider to meet this need

I do not know if this was because of my conversation with Morten Nilsson but I had gone to the CEO because of a previous conversation with NOW which I reported to Pension Expert at the time and Pension Expert reported

This previous statement,  made in 2012 was from  NOW’s then Trustee Chair , Nigel Waterson

Former NOW Trustee Chair and now Chair of the Equity Release Council Nigel Waterson

“If people want a sharia fund, or they want more excitement in their investment lives, they can go somewhere else. They can go to [Nest] or if they want lots of excitement they can go to one of the existing providers.

Presumably Nigel Waterson’s view prevailed over Morten Nillson’s. Sadly, people have no choice over the workplace pension offered them. That is why Adecco and Uber need to have a good reason for choosing NOW pensions, and NOW pensions a good reason not to have a Sharia fund.

Serial failings in taking responsibility for members.

What this tells me , is what I have long suspected, that for all the trustee’s good intentions, the homilies to gender equality and social justice, NOW pensions remains the largest of the Net Pay workplace pension schemes, the only workplace pension scheme without a Sharia option and seemingly a workplace pension scheme that knows little about the needs of its membership.

What is more, Adecco and Uber seem to know very little about the pension scheme they have chosen for Uber workers and the GMB know no more. We are approaching ten years since the start of auto-enrolment, it is a disgrace that this article has had to be written, but it has had to be. NOW and its owners Cardano, take note.

ESG applies to NOW pensions too.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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