Macquarie blames O2 for pensions row

Macquarie has hit back at claims that it misled workers over pension schemes at Airwave, a police radio business it has just bought for £2 billion. The Australian bank has blamed the confusion on the vendor, Telefonica subsidiary O2 Europe.

Australian bank Macquarie has blamed Spanish telecoms group Telefonica for confusion over its plans for the final salary pension scheme at Airwave, an O2 subsidiary that it has just bought for £2 billion (€3 billion, $4 billion).

Macquarie managed to upset Airwave’s union within just one hour of taking over the business, by announcing its intention to change the final salary pension scheme of the company. This caused the Communication Workers Union to complain that they had been misled about Macquarie’s intentions during the takeover process. The union suggested Macquarie had failed to partake in serious discussion until the sale was complete.

However, Macquarie told PEO that this information should have been communicated to the union by its previous owner. A spokesperson said: “We have been very clear about the plans for the pensions arrangements in our dealings with the O2 group, but it appears the union had not been properly informed about the arrangements.”

It accepted that there had been no discussions with the CWU until yesterday, but said: “We have been in a confidential sale process and it would have been inappropriate for us to do so during that process.”

Under the Macquarie plan, Airwave staff will continue to be members of the broader O2 pension plan for the next six months, whereupon a defined contribution pension scheme will be introduced – which the union deems to be unacceptable. However, Macquarie insists its contributions to the fund will be no less than those currently provided, and said it anticipates an attractive package when the negotiations are settled.

In the auction for Airwave, which was run by JPMorgan Cazenove, Macquarie fought off competition from a number of other bidders, including BT. Airwave, a secure network used by more than 200,000 members of the emergency services in the UK, was originally created by BT and inherited by O2.

Airwave will be jointly owned by two of Macquarie’s funds, Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund II and Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group. This week, Macquarie also made a £2 billion acquisition of National Grid Wireless.