By Maximilian Clarke

Unions representing thousands of employees within Unilever UK have today (Thursday) written to the pension fund trustees to urge them not to close the final salary pension scheme.

The unions — Unite, the GMB and Usdaw — warn the trustees, who are soon to make a decision on Unilever's plans to shut the scheme, that the workers are determined to make the company uphold its commitment to retain it, including taking industrial action across the entire UK operation. Such action would hit the production of major brands including Pot Noodle, Flora, Marmite, Persil and Dove.

Workers took the first ever strike at the global’s UK operations in December last year, forced when Unilever reneged on its promise to preserve the financially healthy final salary scheme.

Instead, Unilever is pressing on with plans to replace the scheme with an inferior career average scheme which could slash retirement savings by a massive 40 per cent, and is refusing to talk with the unions about a fairer alternative.

In a letter to the chair of the Unilever UK Pension Fund Trustees, Liz Airey, the unions write:

“We are aware that the Trustees will shortly make a decision in respect of the company’s proposals to close the final salary pension scheme and have already had an exchange of correspondence with you on this issue.

“You will be aware that our members have mandated us to give notice of further strikes and also to escalate our campaign of demonstrations and other actions.

“We are extremely concerned about the approach of Unilever senior management to this dispute in that they have rejected all offers of talks including a proposal by Acas to go to conciliation. As you are aware, this is the first ever national strike in Unilever’s history, and it represents an unprecedented response from employees, many of whom have decades of loyal service and in some cases, who form part of generations of people within their family who have worked for Unilever.

“These employees are angry; angry that the company is closing a well-funded scheme that Unilever can afford to maintain, angry that the company is not prepared to discuss any compromises as alternatives to closure and angry not only at the refusal to engage in discussion about resolution, but at the harsh approach seen before Christmas in cancelling Christmas celebrations and withdrawing gifts, rewards for 12 months of good service.

“No employee relishes strike action and our members in Unilever are therefore very disappointed that they are left with no alternative in the absence of any meaningful negotiations.

“This issue is already having a significant impact on the previously very good reputation of Unilever, a company that prides itself on a very positive corporate social responsibility image and whose CEO, Paul Polman, in particular uses every opportunity to speak about the importance of responsible corporate behaviour and ensuring that the Unilever ‘Compass’ places a high value on treatment of employees.

“We therefore very much hope that you will make the right decision and will not support the recommendations of Unilever management but instead will urge them to re-open talks in order to negotiate a settlement that is good for the workforce and good for the company.

“However, you should be aware that if the decision is to support the company’s proposals, our members have resolved to continue with their campaign using whatever means possible.”

The letter is signed by the national officers for the Unite, Usdaw and GMB unions.

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