Unilever unions to ballot on pensions

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pension

Unilever unions to ballot on pensions
Unilever workers in the UK took their dispute over the food giant's decision to close its final salary pension scheme to the company's headquarters in Rotterdam last month.

Members of the union Unite, together with the GMB and shop workers' union USDAW, joined their continental counterparts to raise the profile of their campaign to get the Anglo-Dutch multinational to reverse its decision.

Unilever owner of brands such as Hellmann's, Marmite, Flora, PG Tips and Pot Noodle has now held negotiations with all unions in dispute with the company through the offices of the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service (ACAS) in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

The arbitration move followed a series of strikes at Unilever's 12 sites around the UK and other high- profile protests organised by the unions in support of the campaign against the pension changes, which Unite claimed would affect 5,200 Unilever employees in the UK.

From July 2012, Unilever plans to transfer its employees from its final salary scheme to a new career average pay, defined benefit scheme. While less favourable financially for members of the scheme, proponents argue that such arrangements are better than most money purchase pension schemes widely used across the private sector these days.

Unite argues that Unilever's healthy profits mean it would have no problem retaining a final salary scheme and the changes will result in pension cuts of up to 40% for some employees. But the company, like an increasing number of businesses, argues that final salary schemes are not sustainable in the long term as people are living longer, which makes the cost of providing them prohibitive.

Unilever has described the final salary pension scheme as "a broken model that is no longer appropriate"​.

However, Unite has taken advantage of widespread public anger at what is seen as excessive executive pay and perks, such as bonuses and pensions. Unite national officer Jennie Formby cited the large pay package made to Unilever's chief executive Paul Polman to support her argument.

"Paul Polman takes home almost 300 times what the average Unilever worker earns,"​ said Formby. "Unilever can address this grotesque disparity, starting by honouring its promises to the workers and their pensions."

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