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Letter: Unilever staff are right to fight for their pensions

Philip Inman (Business analysis, 17 January) claims Unilever workers are “crazy to strike” over their pensions, suggesting they should be grateful they are not losing more and that many other workers are worse off than themselves. The truth is that Unilever employees have been paying 2% more since the scheme was closed to new starters three years ago on the understanding it would continue in the future.

Inman should be criticising the Unilever management for reneging on their promises, before condemning the employees, most of whom have worked for decades with Unilever, without ever even contemplating industrial action. Unilever is an incredibly wealthy consumer goods company, the third largest in the world, making billions of dollars in profit every year and with executives ranking among the highest paid in the corporate world. Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman last year pocketed a massive increase of nearly 50% in his remuneration package – about 285 times that of his average worker. Affordability is not an issue, something that Unilever senior management conceded more than once during the consultation period, openly admitting that there was no financial imperative for the change.

Yet the changes will mean a reduction of around 20% – and for some, up to 40% – of the pension employees have worked so hard for over their many years. Management has stated that nothing would persuade them to change their minds, with the prospect of no compromises being reached. Only after weeks of attempts to get the company to continue to talk with their unions did the workers eventually ballot for industrial action. With management refusing to talk, even through conciliation service Acas, it is hard to see what will resolve the current dispute. But one thing is clear: Unilever workers would be crazy not to fight back for a pension that can clearly be afforded by this hugely profitable multinational; the overwhelming support received from the public would seem to bear this out
Jennie Formby
National officer, Unite the Union © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds