Palantir scraps proposed UK pension cuts after workers’ revolt

Technology consultancy Palantir, which is campaigning for a huge NHS data deal, has scrapped proposed cuts to company pension contributions in the UK after a backlash from employees.

The US-based data analytics firm told its UK employees late last month that it was considering cutting its contribution to its long-term employees’ pensions from 10 percent of salary to 6 percent, according to two current Palantir employees. The proposed change would have come into effect from January 2023 and would affect around a quarter of UK employees.

Such a move would have represented an effective pay cut at a time of rising inflation and was viewed by some longtime employees as the latest in a series of cuts to their benefits.

The proposal also came as Palantir is preparing a multi-million pound contract bid to operate a new NHS data platform that potentially embeds the company at the heart of the UK’s healthcare systems.

More than 200 “Palantirians” — as the company calls its employees — joined a group on the company’s messaging app Slack to discuss the changes, with many vocally opposed to the move. Some longtime UK staffers fretted over what they said was a gradual splintering of their performances. For example, a cut in UK housing benefit worth hundreds of pounds a month was announced in 2019.

Following the backlash, Shyam Sankar, Palantir’s chief operating officer, called a conference call for employees last Monday. One employee described the question-and-answer session with management as “brutal,” including a discussion about the executives’ own pay packages.

Palantir’s top leadership team took home a combined salary of $8 million last year. CEO Alex Karp received $1.1 billion in 2020, including one-time stock awards related to the completion of the company’s IPO.

After the call, Sankar informed staff that the proposal had been scrapped and apologized for how he had introduced the idea.

Palantir employs around 850 people in the UK. The pension cut would have hit those who entered more than two years ago. UK recruits who joined after April 2020 were already receiving a 6 per cent pension contribution and the company presented the change as aligning the two groups.

Many tech companies once famous for their free lunches and generosity to employees are cutting benefits, slowing their hiring pace, or even cutting jobs as they prepare for a possible recession and tighter funding environment.

Cybersecurity professionals often cite disgruntled employees as a potential security risk. In that regard, the stakes are high for Palantir, whose foundry software has been used by the NHS to manage the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination program and other pandemic commissions.

Palantir’s potential involvement in a proposed £360million federated data platform that would result in even more sensitive patient data being processed has sparked protests against the company’s ties to the US security services and its co-founder Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and celebrity supporters, triggered by former US President Donald Trump.

The NHS-FDP contract was expected to be awarded next month, but the change of government in Britain over the summer has pushed a decision back into the new year.

Palantir said his reversal on pensions was merely “good practice”.

“It is not uncommon for a company to review its pension policy from time to time. However, it is also good practice for an employer to listen closely to its employees,” the company said. “We take special pride in valuing our people because we know that our great people drive our success. For this reason, after communicating with those who would have been affected by the potential change, we made the immediate decision not to proceed.” Palantir scraps proposed UK pension cuts after workers’ revolt

Adam Bradshaw

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