Software company Palantir, which is pitching for a huge NHS data contract, has scrapped proposed cuts to company pension contributions in the UK after a backlash from employees.
The US-based data analytics company told its UK workers at the end of last month that it was considering slashing its contribution to the pensions of its longer-serving staff from 10 per cent of salary to 6 per cent, according to two current Palantir employees. The proposed change would have come into effect from January 2023 and affected about a quarter of UK staff.
Such a move would have constituted an effective pay cut at a time of soaring inflation and was seen by some longstanding staff as the latest in a series of cuts to their benefits.
The proposal also came as Palantir is preparing a multimillion-pound contract bid to run a new NHS data platform, potentially embedding the company at the heart of the UK’s health systems.
More than 200 “Palantirians” — as the company calls its staff — joined a group on the corporate messaging app Slack to discuss the changes, with many vocally opposing the move. Some longer-serving UK staff chafed at what they said was a gradual chipping away at their benefits. For instance, a cut to a UK housing allowance worth hundreds of pounds a month was announced in 2019.
Following the backlash, Palantir’s chief operating officer, Shyam Sankar, convened a conference call for employees last Monday. One employee described the question-and-answer session with management as “brutal”, including a discussion of executives’ own pay packages.
Palantir’s top executive team took home total pay worth $8mn last year. Chief executive Alex Karp was paid $1.1bn in 2020, including one-off stock awards related to the completion of the company’s initial public offering.
Following the call, Sankar told staff it had scrapped the proposal and apologised for how he had introduced the idea.
Palantir has some 850 employees in the UK. The pension cut would have affected those who joined 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 bringing the two groups into alignment.
Many tech companies, once famous for their free lunches and generosity to staff, are paring back benefits, reducing their pace of hiring or even cutting jobs, as they prepare for a potential recession and a tighter funding environment.
Cybersecurity experts often cite disgruntled employees as a potential security risk. The stakes in that regard are high for Palantir, whose Foundry software was used by the NHS to manage the UK’s Covid-19 vaccination programme among other pandemic commissions.
Palantir’s potential involvement in a proposed £360mn Federated Data Platform, which would entail it handling even more sensitive patient data, has sparked protests over the company’s ties to the US security services and its co-founder Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor and prominent supporter of former US president Donald Trump.
The award of the NHS FDP contract had been expected next month but the change of government in the UK over the summer has delayed a decision into the new year.
Palantir said its about-turn on pensions was merely “good practice”.
“It isn’t unusual for a company to review its pension policy from time to time. However, it is also good practice for an employer to listen carefully to its employees,” the company said. “We take particular pride in valuing our employees as we know our great people are what drives our success. That is why, having engaged with those who would have been affected by the potential change, we took the prompt decision not to press ahead.”