Leeds factory workers in fight to save pension scheme

Leeds USDAW members from the Unilever factory at Seacroft, lobbying their shareholders' AGM over loss of their pension scheme.

Leeds USDAW members from the Unilever factory at Seacroft, lobbying their shareholders' AGM over loss of their pension scheme.

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Workers from a Leeds factory lobbied the annual meeting of their shareholders in London to protest over the proposed closure of their pension scheme.

More than 200 people work at Unilever’s factory in Coal Road, Seacroft, developing and manufacturing deodorants for the multi-national conglomerate. Products include Impulse, Lynx, Dove and Sure.

The workforce are members of USDAW, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers.

USDAW delegates from Unilever in Leeds and Port Sunlight in Liverpool waved placards, handed out postcards and lobbied shareholders arriving at Unilever’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

Pauline Marshall, USDAW convenor at Unilever Leeds, said: “Our loyal and hardworking members have helped make Unilever the successful company it is and they are bitterly disappointed by this proposal. They feel strongly that Unilever has broken the promise made three years ago to protect our pensions and we really hope the protest will make the company think again.”

The pension scheme has 5,000 members. It was closed to new members in 2008, but the union says the company pledged to keep the fund going for existing members.

The company said that over the past three years it contributed £580m to address its UK pension fund deficit and meet its costs.

Last year Unilever made profits of more than £5 billion, up 26 per cent.

Amanda Sourry, Unilever UK and Ireland chairwoman, said: “Unilever is committed to being a sustainable company in everything we do and our pension arrangements are no exception. The changes have been proposed to help tackle the increasingly unaffordable and unsustainable costs associated with Unilever’s UK pension fund.”

Unilever took over what was the Elida Gibbs Leeds factory – known as “Soapy Joes” – after decades in Whitehall Road, transferring work to the Seacroft factory. Unilever also owned the Treat’s ice-cream factory at Cross Gates. The YEP backed a successful campaign for a management buy-out.

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