Unilever workers stage pension protest


Industrial action could be taken in protest at "attacks" on pensions in private firms and the public sector under moves to link a series of disputes, it was revealed today.

The development was raised by the leader of the country's biggest trade union as workers at consumer goods giant Unilever staged a noisy protest outside the firm's offices.

General secretary Len McCluskey said workers at the company will press ahead with a series of 24-hour strikes from January 17 in protest at the ending of Unilever's final salary pension scheme.

Unite is still embroiled in the bitter public sector pensions dispute after rejecting the Government's final offer to NHS and council workers.

Mr McCluskey told the Press Association that Unite was examining the possibility of combining any future days of action to involve public sector workers as well as employees in a number of private firms including Unilever where pensions disputes have flared.

Scores of union members from Unilever factories across the country arrived at the firm's London offices on an open-top bus, chanting "Where's our pension gone?" and holding banners with the slogan "Hands off our pensions".

Workers from sites at Purfleet, Port Sunlight, Warrington, Leeds, Crumlin, Gloucester, Manchester, Burton-on-Trent and Chester say they are fighting an "unjustified" attack on their pensions.

Unions said the stoppages will hit production of the global giant's leading brands, including Dove, Marmite, PG Tips, Pot Noodle and Hellman's Mayonnaise.

Unite, the GMB and Usdaw say the company's plans to axe the final salary pension scheme will see the retirement income of thousands of staff slashed by up to 40%.

Mr McCluskey said: "How dare a company that generates massive profits attack your pensions, which you have saved for? We are not prepared to stand back and do nothing."

Amanda Sourry, chairman of Unilever, said: "By continuing to offer all of our employees a career average pension plan on their earnings up to £48,000, around 80% of our people will be fully covered by a defined benefit scheme. In addition, almost 90% of our affected UK employees will retain 80% or more of the pension they would have previously expected.

"It is currently not clear how the dispute with the trade unions will be resolved, but we are continuing to urge our employees who have participated in industrial action (approximately 2,000 from a total of 7,000 UK employees) to give further objective consideration to the very competitive new arrangements which are unavailable at most other companies in the UK."

Allan Black, national officer of the GMB union, said: "Unilever should heed their workforce and get back into talks - possibly under the auspices of Acas. Unilever's rejection of an approach from Acas for talks has angered the workforce.

"Unilever need to get the message that profitable companies will not be allowed to walk away from their savings commitments to their loyal workforce."