Pension opt-out clauses – Have a rant…

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The government is back in the business of obfuscation again (Personnel Today, 15 January). A report last week said that ministers plan to amend the Pensions Bill to prevent employers from asking job applicants, at interview, to opt out of the personal accounts scheme that the Bill will establish.

They think – probably correctly – that employers might resent being asked to take on the administration of a pension scheme for the whole nation. That is, after all, what the state pension scheme was supposed to be, and why should employers bear the cost of running it? From an employer’s point of view, the more people who opt out, the better.

Employers, for their part, blustered about the need to make sure the Bill did not introduce a right to go to an employment tribunal if such questions were asked.

What the amendment will not do, though, is properly protect employees from employers that want them to opt out.

Anyone who has applied for a job with a small or medium-sized firm will have received, with the job offer and contract documents, a form to sign that opts them out of the protection of the Working Time Directive.

The covering letter will usually say: ‘Please sign and return all the enclosed documents to accept the offer.’ The sub-text here is: ‘I dare you to quibble over any that you don’t like.’

So the edict: ‘Thou shalt not ask about pensions at job interviews’, will not protect the employee’s right to join the scheme. It will just add one more sheet of paper to the contract bundle – giving new appointees a chance to opt out of yet another piece of legislation designed to protect them.

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