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UK: Strike expected in defense of final salary pension scheme


By David Turner, Financial Times


 June 10, 2003

UK - Workers at a chemical company are expected to vote to strike over keeping its final salary pension scheme open to future workers there, according to the GMB union. It would be the first strike of its kind in Britain.

The dispute, which involves employees at French-owned Rhodia, highlights the rapid rise of pensions to the top of the trade unions' agenda.

Kevin Curran, the GMB's new general secretary, said: "Companies across Britain are using the current pension crisis to flee from their responsibility to their workers".

Last year, workers at Caparo, the steel company, were successful in Britain's first strike in defence of a final salary scheme for existing workers.

GMB members at sites in Widnes, Bristol and Oldbury, West Midlands, are voting this week on industrial action against the company's decision to end access to the final salary scheme for any new worker, and in protest at the company's management of the scheme for existing staff.

The union says Rhodia has taken a pension contribution holiday for the past three years, amounting to 4 per cent of pay, by cutting employer contribution levels from 18 to 14 per cent.

Mr Curran said: "GMB members recognise that closing the scheme to new members is just the first step that this unscrupulous company will take to eventually strip current workers of their hard-earned pensions."

The dispute involves more than 600 workers.

The company said: "Rhodia has chosen as a matter of priority to safeguard as much as possible the interests of current employees and does not wish to compromise this by making additional undertakings to individuals who currently do not work for the company."

The government is expected this week to announce plans to scrap the requirement that final salary schemes must be inflation-proofed in an effort to cut the cost of schemes.

Trade unionists must be realistic in their relationship with the Labour government, Ian McCartney, the party's chairman, said yesterday.

He told the GMB's conference in Blackpool: "A relationship where we agree on everything is unrealistic. A relationship where we disagree all the time is not a relationship at all."

He said talking down the achievements of the partnership between Labour and the unions would only lead to "the government of your worst nightmares - the Tories".

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