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'Solid support' for Unilever strike


The first ever strike at consumer goods giant Unilever was said to be "solidly supported" today as picket lines were mounted at several sites in a row over pensions.

Members of three unions are taking industrial action, which started at 7pm last night and will finish at 7am tomorrow, over plans to axe the company's final salary pension scheme, which workers say will slash the retirement income of thousands of staff by up to 40%.

Unions claimed the company had cancelled a Christmas party at the Port Sunlight factory on the Wirral, and had withdrawn hampers and gift vouchers because of the strike.

Sites hit by the action include Port Sunlight, Purfleet in Essex, Manchester, Gloucester, Burton-on-Trent and Chester.

Unions said the stoppage had hit production of Unilever's brands including Dove, Marmite, PG Tips, Pot Noodle and Hellmans Mayonnaise, but Unilever said its products were available as usual.

David Johnson, national officer of Usdaw, said: "I've been on the picket lines at both Leeds and Port Sunlight and can report that the strike is absolutely solid. The support we've had locally and from across the country has been tremendous and it is very much appreciated by our members.

"While our members would much rather be in work than be forced into this position by Unilever's intransigence, the atmosphere on the picket lines at both sites is fantastic and there is a tangible feeling of solidarity and quiet determination among everyone involved.

"Unilever's petty decision to withdraw Christmas parties, gifts and bonuses has been greeted with derision by our members."

Unite national officer, Jennie Formby, said: "Unilever want to slash pensions but our members are showing they are determined to defend themselves.

"Rather than sitting down with the unions and trying to settle this dispute, Unilever are instead are acting like a modern-day Scrooge. The company is trying to bully its workers into submission through petty and vindictive actions.

"The workers have shown what they think of Unilever's vindictiveness by coming out in force in sites right across the country. Spirits are high because our members are doing the right thing, and they are being supported by the public in their fight, with many horns being tooted in solidarity."

Around 100 workers were staging a picket today at Unilever's research and development laboratories in Port Sunlight, Wirral.

The model village, built by Lever Brothers in the 1890s to house the workforce, remains at the heart of the global company's operation.

A Unilever spokesman said: "We have had plenty of time to prepare for this industrial action so our customers and consumers can rest assured our brands will be available as usual.

"We are deeply concerned by the disproportionate action these unions are taking today. The reality is the union representatives had extensive opportunities to shape the final outcome of consultation we reached in early October but they decided to walk away from talks.

"We believe that the provision of final salary pensions is a broken model which is no longer appropriate for Unilever. It is our responsibility to protect the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of our UK business, and to do so is in the best interests of our people.

"This is a tough but necessary choice which reflects the realities of rising life expectancy and increased market volatility. We will not be pressured by the unions into making the wrong decision for our business.

"The pension arrangements which we will implement in July next year are exceptionally competitive, and were significantly enhanced in 13 different ways as a result of the extended consultation process we carried out.

"By continuing to offer all of our employees a "defined benefit" career-average pension plan on their earnings up to £48,000, we are offering arrangements which are unavailable at most other companies in the UK.

"We hope that our employees who are involved in the action today will give careful consideration to the improvements we have already made."