Hope for workers who lost pension savings

CHRIS BISHOP There was fresh hope last night for thousands of workers who lost their pensions when a Norfolk-based frozen food firm went bust, after a European court ruled the government had not done enough to protect workers whose employers went bankrupt.

CHRIS BISHOP

There was fresh hope last night for thousands of workers who lost their pensions when a Norfolk-based frozen food firm went bust, after a European court ruled the government had not done enough to protect workers whose employers went bankrupt.

King's Lynn-based Albert Fisher was the biggest frozen vegetable supplier in Britain when it went into receivership in 2002.

While most of the 400 staff who worked at its Hardwick Road plant were taken on by Frigoscandia and Pinguin Foods, who took over the cold store, those in company pension schemes lost money they had saved.

A Pension Protection Fund (PPF) set up by the government in 2005 will not make retrospective payments, meaning until now Albert Fisher workers have not been able to claim compensation.

But trade union Amicus has gone to the European Court to challenge why successive governments failed to enact a 1980 EU Directive, which should have been made law by 1983, which required member states to protect the pensions of workers whose employers went bankrupt.

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In a case taken to court on behalf of 1,000 workers from a South Wales steel company, who lost their pensions when it ceased trading, the European Court has ruled that the government failed to properly implement insolvency directives.

The matter will now be referred back to the high Court in London. Union leaders hope the court will order the government to pay compensation.

Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, said: “This judgement vindicates our decision to take this case all the way to the ECJ.

“We have consistently said that we will defend our workers' rights on pensions and this case demonstrates that successive governments have failed workers who have heeded their advice to save for their retirement.

“We want to government to reconsider its position. We believe the today's ruling demonstrates they have a moral obligation to reimburse the many thousands of people who, through no fault of their own, have lost all or substantial parts of their pension savings.”

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "We have every sympathy for those who have lost their pensions and understand the distress this has caused to them and their families, but the UK's position has always been that the Directive does not oblige Member States to ensure such pensions are guaranteed in full nor for the taxpayer to underwrite them.”