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Trade unions say Unilever proposals to cut pensions ‘smacks of opportunism’

Unilever began to brief its staff today (Monday 2 December) on its proposals to close its defined benefit pension scheme for new starters and dramatically reduce the value of pension provision for existing members of staff.

Although the formal consultation process has yet to start, the trade unions understand that the company’s main justification for proposing to make changes is centred on the increasing costs of providing the scheme.

The reality of the current situation is that the pension scheme remains fully funded and has a strong covenant. On that basis, the joint trade unions cannot see any justification for the scale of changes that appear to be being proposed.

While recognising that there could be an increasing pressure on the cost of providing and running the scheme, the joint trade unions do not believe that this is justification for closure of the scheme for new starters and the implementation of a two-tier pension provision in an employer the size and success of Unilever.

Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy said: “The joint trade unions have serious concerns, not only in relation to the existing provision, but also that if closure of the scheme for new starters goes ahead, this will be the death knell for the scheme in its entirety in the medium term.

“Unilever also needs to be a company with purpose for its hard working employees, otherwise its recent claims of only having 'Brands with Purpose ' will come across as a cynical marketing ploy."

Usdaw national officer Daniel Adams said: “Unilever’s pension scheme is an incredibly well-valued part of our members’ terms and conditions. The joint trade unions are clear that we will not just watch the company remove and downgrade its pension provision.”
 
GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn said: “The company cannot claim to be a market leader with initiatives like ‘Brands with Purpose’ then decide to follow the market in a race to the bottom in pensions - either Unilever wants to set the standard or follow the crowd.

“This proposal will look to many staff as a lazy shortcut to help achieve the 20 per cent margin by 2020 target the company has set itself, regardless of the fact it would create a two-tier workforce resulting in unnecessary division and resentment across the entire UK business."

There are about 7,300 Unilever employees in the UK.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065
Email: shaun.noble@unitetheunion.org

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.

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