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Beefeaters and staff at several UK royal sites to strike

[LONDON] Beefeaters and staff at some of Britain's most famous royal sites including the Tower of London will start strikes later this week amid a dispute over pensions, their unions said on Monday.

The staff and a small number of beefeaters -- who are ceremonial guardians at the tower -- voted "overwhelmingly" to walkout in ballots, according to the PCS and GMB unions.

The actions will begin Friday with staff from Kensington Palace -- where Princes William and Harry live with their families -- Hampton Court Palace and the tower, they said.

They will also then picket on the gates of the tower and at Hampton Court on January 8, GMB added.

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The royal sites are formally owned by the British monarchy but placed in trust and run by a charity, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP).

The unions claim HRP has decided to replace employees' final salary pensions with "an inferior" alternative.

"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," said the GMB's Mick Ainsley.

"GMB members still at this late stage are willing to talk to HRP but the silence from HRP is deafening."

John Barnes, HRP chief executive, called the decision "disappointing" but insisted it would not lead to a change in policy.

"We do not expect any industrial action to have a significant impact on the day-to-day operations of our sites," he said, adding they would remain open on January 8.

Beefeaters -- members of the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard, as they are formally known -- live at the Tower of London, which was founded in the 11th century and is now a major tourist attraction.

They date back to 1337, with their nickname thought to stem from the days when the yeoman warders were given a daily ration of meat.