UK IBMers lose crucial battle in pension row

Win for Big Blue in court showdown over final salaries

The Court of Appeal in London, England, has upheld IBM's appeal over the closure of its defined benefit schemes, which guaranteed retired employees a predefined portion of their final salary.

It dismissed The High Court's 2015 ruling by Mr Justice Warren that IBM had not acted in good faith when implementing a series of changes to its pensions schemes.

The case is related to Project Waltz, implemented in 2009 to help Big Blue achieve its 2010 targets for earnings per share and slash costs, resulting in 25 per cent of UK staff booted off the final salary pension scheme.

The Court of Appeal decided that Mr Justice Warren was wrong to conclude that there had been a "reasonable expectation" that defined benefit accrual would continue.

It said the court was wrong to decide that the way in which the Initial 2009 Non-pensionability agreements (NPAs) and 2011 NPAs were procured was in breach of IBM’s contractual duty of trust and confidence to its employees.

It also said Mr Justice Warren was wrong to decide that, before the early retirement policy could be changed, IBM was required to announce such a change to employees.

One staffer told The Register: "I feel sick to my stomach by this judgement."

He added: "There seems to be no place we can go further as there are no funds for defendants to take this to appeal any further. Basically IBM has very deep pockets and would continually fight this."

Others expressed surprise in The Association of Members of IBM UK Pensions Plans forum.

One said: "[The pension changes] have cost me somewhere around 20 per cent [to] 25 per cent of my take-home pay, every month since 2009, to try and back-fill the effect of Waltz.

"To put that in real terms. It has cost me [a] house move, the ability to pay my kids' university fees, and our annual holidays.

"If I expressed my true feelings about the architects of the Waltz program, I'd probably get banned."

Summing up, the court said: "For the reasons that we have set out above, we will dismiss the cross-appeal and allow the appeals, and we hold that it would not be right to injunct Holdings and UKL from implementing Project Waltz without carrying out a further consultation process, on account of the breaches of duty in respect of the consultation process before Project Waltz."

An IBM spokeswoman said: "IBM is pleased that the Court of Appeal has allowed our appeals and dismissed the appeals brought by the Representative Beneficiaries.

"In doing so, the Court has upheld the reasoned business decisions IBM made to maintain our competitiveness during the height of the 2008 financial crisis, and determined that changes made to our UK defined benefit pension plans were lawful." ®

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