Unilever Workers Defending Their Pension

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Unilever workers determined to defend their final salary pensions
Unilever workers determined to defend their final salary pensions

Last Tuesday Unilever workers from all over the country descended on the London headquarters, outraged at the companies ending of their final salary pension scheme.

Workers came down from Purfleet in Essex, from Gloucester, from Port Sunlight, and from Burton-upon-Trent which is north of Birmingham.

After touring around central London in a battle bus, the Unilever workers march ed around the headquarters chanting ‘Unilever there is no need, it is just Polman’s corporate greed!’ and ‘Where’s my pension gone? Far, far away!’ and ‘Polman’s got my pension pot!’

Paul Polman is the chief executive officer of the Unilever company and Unite report that he earns ‘£670,000’ and an extra 10m in bonuses and ‘incentives’.

At the front of the Unilever building the workers organised a lively mass lobby, blowing vuvuzelas, waving flags and chanting backed up by South American drummers.

Brian Ebbrell, an Usdaw member at the Port Sunlight near Liverpool said: ‘It is absolutely disgusting what they are doing. This is disgraceful!

‘Unilever is making billions in profit and they are robbing 40% of our pension of us.

‘I am a third generationer. That means that my grand parents worked at Port Sunlight, my parents worked at Port Sunlight and now I am working at Port Sunlight.

‘I work in the labs and I have dedicated 37 years to this company that is a lot of investment.

‘I work from six in the morning to six in the evening and then when I swap to a night shift I work six in the evening until six in the morning.

‘They are taking away all their promises, they are saying that they are closing the final salary pension scheme altogether now.

‘We have no choice, we will strike until we win!

‘We are fighting for the generation that is coming up behind me, the young people need jobs and pensions.’

Steve Rowell from Port Sunlight said: ‘We have travelled five hours to come down here to save our pensions.

‘Three years ago they closed our final salary scheme for new starters and we were told that if we paid extra into our scheme then it will guarantee the scheme into the future.

‘They have now decided to pull the final salary scheme out and they are refusing to sit down and speak to us about it.’

Dave Ramdles, the Usdaw convener of the Port Sunlight site told News Line: ‘The company made a promise to the employees to keep the final salary pension.

‘When I began working at Unilever 30 years ago in 1979 they promised me personally, now they have broken that promise.

‘We took strike action on the December 8th and 9th last year and it was well supported, our strike was 100 per cent solid.

‘We are going to declare a date for more strikes before the end of the month.’

Mike Rooke, the joint senior Unilever shop steward in the Unite union said: ‘We are here because we are in dispute with the unbelievable plans to close our final salary pensions.

‘Unilever with their changes are telling us that 80 per cent of the workforce will loose 20 per cent of their pensions.

‘However some of my members stand to loose as much as 40 per cent of their pension.’

Jim Griffiths, the senior Unite shop steward in the Burton-upon-Trent site near Birmingham said: ‘We work at the Marmite and Bovril factory.

‘Joint strike action between the private and the public sector is something we now have to consider.

‘At the Burton-upon-Trent site we have a strike day for January 25 and members of the PCS union are coming down to support us.

‘We spend a lot of the hours of the day working for Unilever, I have been working for the company since 1998.

‘Now we find that our loyalty is being repaid in such a poor way.

‘Unilever is such a large company that if it cuts the standards, other companies will say “if Unilever gets away with it we can.”

‘This is the thin end of the wedge for everyone, this will be the bench-mark for future negotiations with in the private sector.’

John Storey a Unite shop steward at Port Sunlight said: ‘We do not accept the closure of the final salary pension scheme.

‘In negotiation we will not accept anything other then the reinstatement of the final salary pension scheme, that is what we are campaigning for.

‘We have had so much support from the public sector workers.

‘We need more emphasis on the scandal of private sector pensions.

‘We also need much better state pensions. In this country we are too reliant on occupational pensions.

‘People simply cannot live on the state pension. There are millions of pensioners in poverty.

‘Without a doubt pensions are deferred wages, it is pay that we are choosing to have later so what Unilever are doing is stealing!’

The St Paul’s occupiers came down with their banner to support the Unilever workers.

John from Occupy London Stock Exchange (Occupy LSX) said: ‘The slogan of the Occupy movement is that we are fighting for economic interests of the 99 per cent which means defending the pension rights of the Unilever workers, rather then the interests of the FTSE 100 directors pensions and bonuses’.

Dressed up as Lord Levenhulme, victorian entrepreneur and ‘philanthropist’ who set up Lever Brothers, which later became the cornerstone of Unilever plc, addressed the mass lobby, he said: ‘They have brought me back from the dead, I died 110 years ago and now I have come back to get more of your pension!’

Len McClusky, General Secretary of Unite then addressed the mass lobby saying: ‘We have carried this struggle straight to the doorstep of Unilever.

‘How dare they attack your pensions, and in doing so attack things that you have planned for and saved for all your life.

‘Unilever, every year are making millions.

‘You can be assured that this executive is 100 per cent behind your campaign and we place at your disposal the full resources of this union to make your campaign successful.’

Bill Hudson from Unite, the chair of the Unilever workers pensions committee, told the mass lobby: ‘It is great to see the turnout here today.

‘Unilever cannot fail to see the determination that you have shown to fight for your pensions.

‘Let’s just hope that Unilever will now finally decide to sit around the table with us and find a resolution to this dispute.’

The workers handed out leaflets put out by Usdaw, Unite and GMB to passes by that said: ‘Unilever is treating its UK workforce like dirt!’

The leaflet states that Unilever says: ‘160 million times a day someone somewhere chooses a Unilever product from feeding your family to keeping your home clean and fresh’.

The leaflet continues: ‘Yet despite wanting to help people feel good, look good and get more out of life – Unilever is treating its UK workforce like dirt!

‘The household giant wants to slash the pension scheme of its loyal 7,000-strong workforce.

‘Unilever whose products range from Persil to Marmite, plans to close the final salary scheme to existing members and transfer them to an inferior CARE scheme.

‘This will see the retirement income of thousands of staff slashed by between 20 and 40 per cent.

‘Workers are determined to defend their pensions. Unilever is a successful company.

‘It can afford to pay workers what they have saved for and what they were promised.

‘And the company itself admitted there is no financial imperative driving the change.

‘So why won’t Unilever talk to their workers?

‘Unilever workers are coming under huge pressure since we took industrial action – the first national strike by Unilever workers – in December.

‘The company has chosen to use bullyboy playground tactics, such as cancelling workers’ Christmas celebrations and gifts. But the underhand tactics are very bad for Unilever’s reputation and must stop here!

‘They even told workers that they would only reopen talks if they accept the closure of the pension scheme.

‘This cannot be right! Instead of threatening and punishing its loyal workforce, they should start listening and give them their pension they’ve worked so hard for and been promised throughout their working life!

‘Back the workers in their fight to defend their pensions!’