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Why beefeaters at the Tower of London and royal staff are going on strike

A Yeoman of the Guard, or Beefeater, stands amongst torches at the Tower of London. Photo: Jim Dyson for Getty Images
A Yeoman of the Guard, or Beefeater, stands amongst torches at the Tower of London. Photo: Jim Dyson for Getty Images

One of London’s most famous sights will be conspicuously absent for part of January due to a row over pensions.

The Tower of London’s “beefeater” guides – officially called yeoman wardens – will take industrial action next month over changes to their pension, the GMB union said.

Staff at Hampton Court Palace on the River Thames will also go on strike, after a ballot received 91% in favour of taking action.

Both the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace are managed by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), and a 24-hour strike is planned for 8 January next year, accompanied by a picket at both venues.

Around 120 staff are having their pensions moved from a final salary scheme into a model the GMB union described as “inferior”.

GMB regional organiser Michael Ainsley said: “HRP are jumping on a bandwagon which is seeing employers engaging in a race to the bottom, ending good final salary schemes and replacing them with risky cheaper defined contribution schemes.”

HRP said both sites will remain open during the strikes. Chief Executive John Barnes said: “Although we fully respect the rights of trade union members to take industrial action, (the) strike is disappointing.

“However, it will not change our decision to close the Defined Benefit scheme.”

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There is further action planned at HRP sites – which also include Kensington Palace, Banqueting House, Kew Palace and Hillsborough Castle – from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).

They will carry out two three-hour walkouts, first on 28 December and then on 2 January.

The beefeaters have guarded the Tower of London since the 16th century, and it is believed their name may derive from having originally received part of their payment in beef.

They are best known for wearing red uniforms on state occasions, though usually wear a dark blue uniform.

Additional reporting from Reuters