North West Water pensions strike

GMB members gathered to picket and protest outside the of United Utilities’ Warrington HQ at Lingley Mere, Great Sankey, in a protest over pensions. The pickets were being watched by a handful of company ‘marshals’ from just inside the perimeter.

GMB steward, Steve explained that the company have served notice that they wish to close the ‘defined benefit’ pension scheme, and replace it with an inferior ‘defined contribution’ system.

“The difference is that under defined benefits you know what you’re going to get, and the company plug any gaps, but under defined contribution you know what you pay but not what you’ll get, and the risk is put on the employee. The company are not responsible for any shortfalls”.

United Utilities is a multi million pound company with revenues of £1,700 million and profits of £664.3 million last year. They paid a dividend of 37p per share to their backers in The City. Now they say they cannot afford decent pensions for the staff who generate those revenues. 

Warrington picket line
Warrington picket line

Some years ago the staff agreed to go from 6% contributions to 7.5% and to go down to an accrual of 80ths from 60ths, all in the name of protecting the defined benefit scheme. Now the company want to scrap it anyway.

“Up till last year the company was reporting that the scheme was doing OK” said Steve, “Now they say they can’t cover the future costs”.

United Utilities say that they value their employees as ‘stakeholders’. But figures obtained by GMB show that in the last year reported they distributed £259 million in dividends to shareholders, but are now fighting about £15 million for the pension scheme. Obviously where the ‘stakeholders’ are concerned ‘some are more equal than others!’ The effect of protecting the pension would only be literally a couple of pence off the share dividend.

The three year re-valuation of the scheme is due this year. GMB are demanding that the full accounts are opened for inspection. But United Utilities is only willing to share some of the figures and even then only for ‘validation’ by the union, not proper consultation.

So the GMB members have been left with little choice. 90% voted for industrial action with 82% backing full strike action. The GMB represents workers in process control, water collection and treatment and repair and maintenance – the heart of the business. It looks like the company and their shareholders are not going to have it all their own way.

Andy Bentley from National Shop Steward Network Staffordshire took a message of support from the NSSN to the picket line just outside Nantwich in Cheshire. Strikers told us “it’s decades since workers here have had to take strike action but we have to defend our pensions. We will strike again if necessary”

Nantwich picket line
Nantwich picket line

See GMB website –