Consumer goods manufacturer Unilever saw thousands of its workers start a 24-hour strike across 11 sites yesterday, in a dispute over pensions.
The action, organised against a new scheme that, staff say, would cut their retirement income by up to 40%, is expected to disrupt production.
Unilever manufactures well-known brands such as Marmite, Dove, Knorr, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Ben & Jerry’s and Lipton. The company expressed concern by the “disproportionate action” the unions were calling for.
A spokesman for Unilever said that changing the pension scheme was a “tough but necessary choice reflecting the realities of rising life expectancy and increased market volatility.”
Unite, Usdaw and the GMB unions represent about 2,500 factory floor workers. In December, they took part in the first national strike at the company.
According to Jennie Formby, national officer at Unite, the workforce is angry at Unilever’s refusal to meet them and to attend conciliation talks. “Thousands of our members will walk out to show their disgust at Unilever’s unacceptable attack on their pensions. Their pension fund is financially robust and yet the company, which is highly profitable, has shown little willingness to negotiate seriously to avert this dispute,” she added.
The Unilever spokesman added: “It is our responsibility to protect the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of our business, and to do so is in the best interests of our people.” The company claims to have engaged in a 100-day consultation with staff that brought to three “major improvements” to the scheme.