By Maximilian Clarke

Unilever workers have toady (Tuesday) begun the first of up to 10 days of strikes as the Anglo- Dutch household goods giant refuses to back down from changes to the company pension policy that Union representatives fear could erode the value of their pensions by as much as 40%.

Following similar losses last week, Unilever shares (LSE: ULVR) dropped a further 5% on Monday (16th) as investor confidence in the Anglo-Dutch giant remains strained.

The workers are furious that the company is closing their final salary pension scheme despite earlier assurances to the workforce that it would be retained.

Unilever admits that there is no financial imperative for shutting the scheme, even though plans to replace it with an inferior career average scheme will see workers lose out on average by 20 per cent with some losing as much as 40 per cent of their retirement savings.

The joint trade unions put forward alternatives to the company to save the scheme, and which would both save the company money and reduce risk, but Unilever management stated there was nothing their workers could do to convince them to keep the scheme open. Further, Unilever is now refusing to meet with Unite at mediators Acas to discuss solutions to the dispute.

Announcing the strike dates, Unite national officer, Jennie Formby, said: "We have repeatedly called upon this company to talk to us about a sensible solution to this dispute. It is deeply regrettable that Unilever refuses to even sit with us at Acas. It confirms the company is not interested in a common solution and it gives the workforce no other option but to withdraw their labour.

"Last December these workers took the first ever strike action in Unilever's UK history. Instead of seeing that for the profound expression of frustration that is was, Unilever spitefully cancelled the workers' Christmas celebrations. Now, across the country people are realising how the company treats its workforce — a company that is the 18th most powerful on the stock exchange, the third biggest consumer products company on the planet, and where the CEO's pay, 285 times that of his average employee, jumps by nearly 50 per cent in one year.

"A second round of strikes will soon begin right across the business sending a clear message to management that this workforce will not be bullied or cowed.

"Unilever shareholders must start asking searching questions about whether this dispute is doing the business' reputation or operations any good and instruct management to get back round the table and solve this fairly."

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