United Utilities employees strike in dispute over pensions

Water pipe

Employees at water service organisation United Utilities who are members of Prospect, Unison and Unite trade unions are undertaking two days of strike action in a dispute over pensions.

Approximately 1,500 employees will take part in the industrial action, which is taking place today (Friday 16 March 2018) and on Monday 19 March 2018. This is in addition to action short of strike, where employees did not complete overtime, which ended on Thursday 15 March 2018.

The dispute regards United Utilities’ proposal to close its defined benefit (DB) pension scheme on 1 April 2018, which it announced in February 2017. The trade unions argue that the amended pension provisions will adversely affect employees’ pension savings, and that since the DB scheme is still financially healthy, there is no reason to close it.

A spokesperson at United Utilities said: “We are disappointed that Unite, Unison and Prospect have asked their members to walk out for two days. Around a third of employees are involved, and we have plans to keep our services running as normal.

“Many [organisations] have found that final salary pension schemes have become much more expensive to fund and United Utilities is no exception. The costs of keeping our [workplace] scheme open are predicted to keep on rising to unsustainable levels.

“The unions helped to shape the final version of the new scheme. Rather than scrap the defined benefit scheme as planned, we agreed to introduce a hybrid scheme, which will cost us considerably more. So, we have made considerable concessions already and hope that the unions will show a similar desire to compromise.”

Dave Prentis, general secretary at Unison, added: “Today, Unison members at United Utilities are on strike to defend their right to a fair pension. It’s not a decision they’ve taken lightly, but the staff face being hammered by pension proposals that could leave some as much as £10,000 a year worse off.

“In fact, the pension scheme will be in surplus by 2020 according to current projections; this is a healthy scheme, where, due to changes made in 2010, members are already paying more for less. This isn’t about saving the pension scheme, it’s about cutting pension costs at a highly profitable business.

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“The impact on individual United Utilities workers will be devastating. A 60-year-old employee, who has worked there since leaving school and earns £30,000 a year will lose £2,500 a year on retirement. A 40-year-old in the same position stands to lose even more; a whopping £9,200 a year. That’s why United Utilities members are taking action today, and on Monday, to defend the pensions they’ve spent years paying into.”

Andrew Jennings, negotiations officer at Prospect, said: “United Utilities has no reason to close this scheme, which costs £12 million a year, a relatively small amount compared to the £1.2 billion paid out in dividends to shareholders in the last five years.”