Workers are striking for the first time at the global giant. Unions say closing final salary scheme will slash workers’ retirement income by 40%

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Unions say more than 2,500 Unilever workers across the UK are taking strike action for the first time today in an effort to block plans to close down their final salary pension scheme.

Unite, the lead negotiator with the company, says current pension proposals will slash workers’ retirement income by 40%. Unilever plans to transfer current members to an inferior career average scheme with effect from next July.

Unilever plants will be affected at Purfleet, Port Sunlight, Warrington, Leeds, Crumlin, Gloucester, Manchester, Burton-on-Trent and Chester.

The action, by Unite, GMB and Usdaw members is supported by the European works council for the global giant, whose products include, Persil, Pot Noodle, Flora, Marmite and Dove.

Jennie Formby, Unite national officer, said: “This is a disgraceful incidence of a wealthy global company using the recession as cover to raid the pensions of the less well off.

“Lord Leverhulme – Unilever’s founder – fought over a century ago to enhance workers’ pension rights. The action of the current board spits in the face of everything their founder stood for. Unite and the UEWC will not stand back and watch our members hard worked for pensions be reduced by this now greedy company.

“Unite believes the current Unilever pension scheme is sustainable and strong, and that Unilever wants to make these changes purely to increase profits and maximise returns to shareholders and ‘fat cat’ executives. Unilever’s chief executive, Paul Polman, received shares worth £1,069,986 last month.”

It is the second strike in as many days by private sector workers seeking to preserve their occupational pension schemes.

On Thursday, dozens of drivers and warehouse workers at the Argos ‘Eurocentral’ warehouse in Motherwell took industrial action in a dispute with their emplopyer, Norbert Dentressangle.  The French logistics company is the third sub-contractor to undertake the lucrative Argos distribution operation over the last decade.

Unions have also this week warned of possible industrial action at car makers BMW if it seeks to impose a threat to close down its final salary scheme.

In a message of support to Unilever strikers, the PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The government shamelessly tries to play public servants off against their colleagues in the private sector, when the real divide over pensions is between the wealthy bosses and shareholders, and the workforces they exploit.

“Despite ministers’ best efforts, the public sector strike last week was supported by many in the private sector who recognise that the answer to their problems is not an equality of misery, but fair pensions for all.

GMB national officer Alan Black said “ The Unilever strike demonstrates that pensions are not just a matter of concern for public sector workers.  The action also shows that ordinary workers will not stand idly by to watch profitable employers like Unilever jumping on the pension’s robbery bandwagon.”


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