Saturday, October 04, 2014

Why Menzies Aviation is a health & safety investment nightmare: UNISON London Pension Network & SEIU

The group picture is from last Tuesday's lunchtime network meeting of London UNISON pension Member Nominated Representatives and Trustees.  I chair the network which has met every 3 months for the past 10 years or so. It is an opportunity for us to meet up and discuss pension and investment issues, training and Capital Stewardship. The pension world (and in particular the Local Government Pension Scheme) is undergoing massive changes and in the last year the network has been very active. 

Each meeting we try to have interesting guest speakers. This time we had invited Heather Szerlag and Wendy Weiner (centre of photo) from the 2 million strong SEIU which is a sister public service union to UNISON which organises in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

Wendy and Heather briefed us on the investment and reputational risk that our pension funds face from investing in the British listed company Menzies. In the UK the company is best known for its retail newsagent chain but in the United States it owns Menzies Aviation which is a major international provider of services to airports.  

Many of these services are so called heavy manual or "below the wings"jobs. Which are hidden from public view and often dangerous. Menzies has an appalling health and safety record in the United States. Four Menzies workers have been killed in recent years and the company has had numerous fines and safety violations filed against it by the regulator including a "serious wilful risk" citation. Their record on safety is far worse than its competitors.

Not only is there a reputational risk to pension funds from its investments in Menzies there is also a clear financial risk since Menzies record is so bad it is in danger of losing its licence to operate at US airports. Top international carriers are also worried at the reputational risk of being associated with Menzies.

Menzies Aviation refuses to recognise trade unions which I think is cause and effect of its dangerous workplace practises. If they treat their workers in such a way I shudder at the thought of how they take passenger and aircrew safety. In the UK "Safety studies show that workers are twice as likely to be injured in a non-unionised workplace. This is because in unionised workplaces, employers are required to work with union-appointed safety reps and set up safety committees".

In order to protect its members SEIU is trying to highlight the issue and risk to investors. It was agreed for us to take this matter up with our investment managers and advisers.

I was very disappointed to learn that the biggest single investor in Menzies, the fund manager Schroders, refuses to meet or even talk to the SEIU? Schroders manage a 16.18% holding on behalf of investors and you would have thought that they would want to find out more about such significant  risks and I think they are being irresponsible not to do so.

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