Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

AA workers facing strike ballot over pensions

An AA van
The AA gets call outs in all types of weather

Staff at vehicle breakdown service, the AA, may strike for the first time in the company's 105-year history, in a row over pensions, the BBC has learned.

A ballot of about 5,000 AA employees will be announced on Wednesday.

The Independent Democratic Union (IDU) said only a last-minute change of heart on plans to cap benefits in two AA pension schemes would avert the ballot.

The AA is part of Acromas, which owns Saga, the travel and financial services company that sells to those over 50.

The IDU's national secretary, Alistair MacLean, told the BBC's business editor Robert Peston there were rumours that Acromas had plans to be listed on the stock market - potentially generating large profits for its owners.

But our correspondent said he did not expect the firm to try for flotation in the next three months.

Criticisms

The AA's management wants to put a ceiling on annual rises in pensionable salaries, to raise employee contributions and also to reduce the maximum annual rise in pensions paid to 2.5% a year.

The AA became the lightning rod for criticisms that private equity firms were asset strippers that loaded up companies with dangerous quantities of debt
Robert Peston, BBC business editor

Acromas is aiming to reduce a £190m deficit in the pension scheme.

The final-salary scheme is already closed to new joiners, but Acromas believes it is being more generous than some other firms in keeping the scheme open for contributions to existing members.

Our business editor said the dispute would bring back memories of tensions between employees and management after the emergency breakdown service was bought by the private equity firms Permira and CVC in the summer of 2004.

"The AA became the lightning rod for criticisms that private equity firms were asset strippers that loaded up companies with dangerous quantities of debt," he said.

In June 2007, the AA was merged with Saga to form Acromas.

The merger yielded huge profits for CVC, Permira and for Saga's owner, Charterhouse.

The three private equity firms retain big stakes in Acromas.



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