By Marcus Leach
Unilever workers from across UK sites are stepping up the battle for pension justice amid moves by their employer to stop their final salary pension scheme.
Unite, the lead union supporting the workers, is furious that Unilever, one of the world’s biggest makers of food and household goods, is using the recession to attack its workers’ pensions.
In the last financial year, according to figures from Pensions Investment Research Consultants Ltd (PIRC), Unilever CEO Paul Polman received a total remuneration of 54,236,511 euros and the company's end of year figures, due in February, are likely to show continued strong performance. However, the company is determined to force through changes to the pension scheme that could lead to poorer pensions for more than one third of its UK employees.
Last December Unilever's UK workforce took their first ever strike action over the company's move to switch the pensions of its 7,000 strong workforce from a final salary scheme to a poorer career average one from 1 July 2012. This will see the retirement income of thousands of staff slashed by between 20 and 40 per cent.
Further strike action remains a looming possibility, particularly as the company is refusing to speak to the workers about their own, fully-costed reform proposals which could save the company money while retaining the final salary scheme. The mood was further darkened when Unilever halted Christmas parties across the business as a punishment for last month's strike action.
In a bid to force the company to think again Unilever workers are heading to the capital on Tuesday 10 January in a Unite 'battle bus' emblazoned with the warning: “Unilever — not as clean as you think; mega profits but pensions snatchers!". Led by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, the workers will be directing a message to Unilever shareholders, asking them to remember that this was a company founded to bring "ethics" into commerce.
Speaking ahead of the event Unite national officer Jennie Formby said: “Our members have dedicated their time and hard work to help Unilever build leading brands - it is their hard graft which helps ensure that every six seconds, someone, somewhere on this planet buys a Unilever product.
"But Unilever has changed from a caring company into one which treats its workers like dirt. We have shown the company that there is no need to destroy the reputation of a blue chip company because there is a solution on the table if only they will talk with the unions.
“Our message to CEO Paul Polman is that he must listen to his workforce. This pension dispute can be solved - but damage to Unilever's reputation in the process may last for good.”
Unite is urging Unilever to reopen talks with the union as a matter of urgency.
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