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British unions lose legal challenge over pension reform bill

British trade unions, the Fire Brigades Union and the British Medical Association, have lost a legal challenge against changes to public sector pensions. The unions argued that the government was unlawfully passing on the cost of discriminatory pension reforms, totaling GBP 19 bln (USD 23 bln), to workers. However, a judge at London’s High Court dismissed the case in a written ruling on Friday.

The case follows a 2018 court ruling that found the exclusion of younger staff from more beneficial “legacy” pension schemes, as part of wider government reforms, amounted to unlawful age discrimination.

This ruling resulted in the government facing an additional bill estimated between GBP 17 bln to GBP 19 billion in future pension payments to approximately three million public sector workers.

In 2021, the government included this bill in the valuation of public sector pension schemes. The unions argued this was unlawful as the decision was taken without assessing other options.

The government claimed it was faced with a choice between asking public sector employees, and ultimately the taxpayer, or pension scheme members to bear the cost.

Dr. Vishal Sharma, Chair of the British Medical Association’s pensions committee, said in a statement: “We firmly believe that affected doctors and other public sector workers must not pick up the bill for the government’s unlawful discrimination and we will be considering an appeal.”

The unions’ loss in the legal challenge means that the government can continue with its pension reforms. This ruling also reinforces the government’s authority to make decisions on public sector pensions, even in the face of legal challenges.

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