Belfast Telegraph

Unions ruffled as directors feather their nests

By David Prosser

It is hardly surprising that the TUC is feeling miffed. The trade union movement has spent more and more of its time in recent years defending the pensions of members from employers seeking to cut the cost of retirement plans.

Yet its own research - including today's survey- shows that the very same directors responsible for closing down company pension schemes continue to feather their own nests with generous retirement benefits.

Still, while the figures the TUC presents have plenty of shock value - average directors' pension funds worth £3.8m, executives' pensions worth 26 times more than their staff's, and so on - the real scandal here is how little information is made available to shareholders to help them to judge whether such benefits are justified.

The quality of the remuneration section of companies' annual reports has improved out of all recognition in modern times.

Comprehensive information is published on what directors earn and the extent to which their performance qualifies them for additional pay, bonuses and shares. The exception is pensions, where the requirements on companies to disclose the benefits awarded to directors are woefully inadequate.

The TUC may not like it, but it is hardly a surprise that highly paid executives are accruing much more valuable pension pots than their staff, or that they retain membership of more generous schemes that have not been available to most of the workforce for some time.

However, having accepted the case for greater disclosure on pay, it's remarkable that companies are continuing to get away with giving such scant detail about pensions.

Institutional investors certainly aren't happy about this either.

In the absence of better disclosure, the natural suspicion is that many firms are relying on more generous pension benefits to compensate directors for benefits they have been forced to give up by the glare of publicity.