UK - US engineering giant Parsons Group has refused to pay its UK scheme's shortfall in wind-up, leaving members facing cuts in their pensions of up to half their entitlement.
OPAS has persuaded scheme members to take their case to the pensions ombudsman.
But the ombudsman is yet to establish whether his jurisdiction covers international legal battles and suggests the case could end up in the High Court in a landmark hearing.
The £22.8m Parsons Energy & Chemicals Group pension scheme – frozen three years ago – contained a £5m shortfall in its 2001 wind-up valuation, which has in part been met by the UK subsidiary.
But the engineering group claims funding the shortfall any further would drag it into liquidation. Scheme trustee Greg Ayres told members that he approached the parent company for payment, but it refused to pick up the remaining costs.
OPAS chairman Malcolm McLean slammed the Parsons Group for walking away from its obligations.
He said: “It is wrong that the employer can just walk away from its liabilities like this.
“There’s no point in having rules and regulations if an employer cocks his nose and says he’s not doing anything. It makes a mockery of the whole system.”
Liberal Democrat trade and industry spokesman Vincent Cable – whose Twickenham constituency covers the Parsons Group’s UK base – is backing scheme members in their fight over pension rights.
Cable referred to the US parent of the Parsons Group as “cowboy capitalists” and of arbitrarily halving members’ pension entitlements.
Linklaters’ pensions litigation partner Mark Blyth argued that the onus for paying the shortfall lies with the UK subsidiary and if it could not be paid by it or its US parent, then the UK company could be forced into liquidation.
He said: “Trustees could serve a statutory demand on the UK company. Failure to pay within 21 days would entitle the trustees to present a petition for the insolvent winding up of the company.”
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