Milk deliveries across the south of England and Wales risk being disrupted by looming strike action at Dairy Crest over the group's plans to end its final-salary pension scheme.
The Transport and General Workers' Union is balloting members about a strike to try to force Dairy Crest to backtrack on its decision not to allow new employees to join its final-salary scheme. More than three-quarters of the T&G's 2,000 members at Dairy Crest, which employs about 4,300 people, backed an indicative ballot in favour of a strike.
The cheese and milk maker warned in the summer it would withdraw the more lucrative final-salary scheme for new joiners in favour of a money-purchase scheme from next month, blaming soaring liabilities. The company has a deficit of £100m but prefers to point to its estimated £650m of liabilities, slightly greater than its market capitalisation.
Chris Kaufman, the T&G's national secretary, claimed Dairy Crest was overstating its woes. "Last year nobody saw any black clouds overhead. Compared with plenty of other schemes Dairy Crest looks to be blooming." He said employees were "brassed off" that the company was penalising workers for retiring early by withdrawing some of their benefits.
A strike has been pencilled in for 6 April, the date the new regime takes effect. Dairy Crest said it hoped to resolve the issue in the next few weeks. Mr Kaufman said: "It's never too late but it's pretty clear members are determined on this one."