Pensions auto-enrolment: Don’t be casual about workers’ pensions

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• Contributions will be refunded to those who give notice during opt-out periods.
• Nest has been talking to recruitment firms to develop agency worker plans.

Globalisation and the expansion of the European Union has led to increasing numbers of seasonal and casual workers, so how will employers handle pensions for transient workers

Over the last decade or so globalisation has progressively shaped the way businesses recruit staff and as a result workforces have become increasingly transient. There are now an estimated two million migrant workers in the UK, and employers in cities like London have a high number of employees from countries such as South Africa, India and Poland. The expansion of the European Union (EU) has also led to increasing numbers of seasonal and casual workers. In industries, such as retail, there is also a high turnover of staff and a significant proportion of younger workers.

There is the challenge of how pensions auto-enrolment will work for these groups of staff and how employers can best manage it.

According to Richard Wilson, senior policy adviser at the National Association of Pension Funds (NAPF) The Pensions Regulator needs to provide more clarity and guidance on how to manage auto-enrolment for transient workers. “The current system is inflexible and bureaucratic,” he says.†

The government has issued a three-month waiting period on either side of an employer’s phasing-in date for automatic enrolment so staff can choose to opt out or start saving earlier. Meanwhile, workers who give notice during the formal opt-out period will be refunded any contributions taken following their auto-enrolment. Significant numbers of transient workers are expected to opt out and Brian Newman, international HR director at entertainment firm Live Nation, thinks this is going to cause major headaches for bosses.

“Lots of people choose to work casually because it fits in with their lifestyle. It is about understanding, how employers can bring these people [into a pension scheme] for a short amount of time. Casual workers will probably be the first group to opt out and some might even move jobs by the third month to avoid having to opt in,” he says.

Auto-enrol on day one of employment

Jeremy Mindell, senior reward and tax manager at Henderson Global Investors, says employers will need to auto-enrol such workers on day one of employment and that this would be advantageous to the employee.

“Auto-enrolment is supposed to catch people so that when they move jobs they have got some sort of pension at the end. The idea is that an employee takes it with them. I do not know how this is going to affect people moving back home to [other countries].”

Paul Gilbody, director of market engagement at Nest Corporation, says the board of trustees overseeing the national employment savings trust (Nest) has been talking with recruitment agencies, such as Adecco and Manpower, about how they are going to manage agency workers and design the right processes to fit in around them.

“One of the features of Nest, which we have tested among members and future members, is that employees have a pensions feature they can plug in, unplug and take with them. And the people that do move around a lot (and I admit that there are hundreds of thousands of people that do) will end up with a pension at the end of a 20-year time frame, which in today’s climate you would not have.”

But Kelly Bol, HR manager, reward, at disability charity Scope, says there are also going to be major issues with high turnover and eligibility: “I recently had a new starter ask for a pension forecast. We did not know how many hours they were going to be working.” Gilbody says the Nest Corporation was trying to make it as straightforward as possible for people to transfer pension schemes from one employer to another, but he admitted it could take time to resolve.

Charles Cotton, public policy adviser, reward at the CIPD, urged employers not to overlook younger workers. “Our research indicates that younger workers are engaged with pensions, especially after seeing their parents worry about their own retirement funds,” he says.

Read more from the roundtable discussion on pensions auto-enrolment