Amicus and Community will take a long-running complaint to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg in a case that could result in huge amounts of compensation being paid to workers who have lost all or most of their pensions through company bankruptcy.
Derek Simpson, general secretary of Amicus, said: 'Thousands of hard-working people who have followed Government advice and saved responsibly for their retirement have been left virtually penniless because of successive Governments' failures to implement EU law that would have seen their pensions protected.
'Our case is strong and will prove that Governments dating back to 1983 knew that the laws relating to the security of company pensions are not sufficient to protect pension savings.' Since the uproar over workers in company schemes losing their pensions through insolvency, the Government has introduced the Pensions Protection Fund to secure up to 90 per cent of occupational pensions in cases of company collapse.
The delegation of ex-ASW employees - Peter Jackson, 61, and Joe Monks, 48, from Cardiff, and Pat Wiggins, 61, and Jim Stack, 58, from Sheerness - said in a statement before the case opened: 'We are here as representatives of nearly 1,000 of our former colleagues. 'Their hopes for justice - and that of their families - rest on the outcome of this case.
'The misery and despair that has resulted from the collapse of the ASW pension schemes cannot be understated. Houses have been lost, families broken down, widows left to survive in hardship and future retirement plans wrecked. 'We only hope today that we see justice done and that the court will recognise that the UK Government didn't implement the Insolvency Directive properly. If they had, our pensions would have been protected and our futures assured.'
The unions' legal argument relates to Article 8 of the EU Insolvency Directive of 1980 which states that member states have to ensure that necessary measures are taken to protect pension rights. The unions claimed this had not been properly implemented by successive UK Governments so companies haven't been required to sufficiently fund their schemes.