A scheduled three-day strike at Fujitsu Services has been called off by the union involved, Unite.
On Wednesday, Unite issued a statement in which it said it had engaged in "constructive talks" with Fujitsu's management. The strike, due to begin on Thursday, will no longer take place, but Fujitsu has agreed to extend the timescale within which Unite can call for a strike.
Unite served notice of the industrial action last week, following an October ballot in which three-quarters of respondents voted to strike over proposed cuts to jobs and pensions.
Apart from planning to make around 1,200 workers redundant by the end of this year, Fujitsu Services has proposed closing its pension scheme to further contributions, affecting around 4,000 of its workers: about a third of its UK workforce.
According to Unite, this action — which would involve dismissing the workers who are subscribed to the pension plan, then rehiring them on a contract that does not include the pension — would effectively reduce workers' pay packages by 20 percent.
"Because of the way the pensions scheme rules are written, to change those where it results in a reduced pension to the detriment of individuals, the pension scheme has to get the agreement of an actuary to certify that nobody's worse off," Unite spokesman Peter Skyte explained to ZDNet UK on Thursday.
"Clearly in these circumstances, no actuary can provide that certification, so the only option is to change the contracts," Skyte said. "The only way to change that without agreement is by dismissing everybody and re-engaging them, which leaves the company open to claims for up to 4,000 unfair dismissals. If people were to win that, that amounts to quite a lot — it could cost the company £150m-£200m."
Following its talks with Unite, Fujitsu agreed to further consult on the pensions change until the end of January at the earliest. The company also agreed not to take any action against employees who start striking on Thursday because they are not aware of the late withdrawal of the notice of industrial action.
Fujitsu also agreed that no workers who are made redundant under its plans will have their employment terminated before the end of January. According to the statement, the company and Unite will have further talks "with the aim of agreeing a resolution by Christmas 2009 or agreeing a way to continue dialogue".
A spokesman for Fujitsu Services told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the company was "pleased that the planned action by Unite has now been averted". He said the eventuality of workers being dismissed in order to be rehired under new contractual terms was "unlikely", but would not say what would happen to workers who refused to voluntarily accept the new contracts.
"A defined pension scheme is a large burden on a company, so we're looking at ways of possibly reducing that burden," the spokesman said.