Unite threatens potential strike action over GE pension changes

The union Unite has warned that a ballot for industrial action is “very much on the cards” this summer over GE’s proposed pension changes.

Global conglomerate GE has proposed changing the pension arrangements of around 2,600 of its UK workers from defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC).

Unite warned that some employees could lose more than £11,000 a year in pension income if the changes are imposed from 1 January 2022.

The union described the plans as a “savage kick in the teeth” for affected workers.

Sites that could be affected by potential strike action included Cardiff, Cheltenham, GE Caledonian, Rugby, and Dowty Propellers in Gloucestershire.

Unite national officer, Linda McCulloch, wrote to GE CEO UK and Ireland, Kevin O’Neill, expressing the union’s displeasure with the proposals.

“The handling of this situation from the GE management side has been utterly abysmal and the blatant refusal to engage in a proper negotiation with Unite officials is nothing other than a display of arrogance and contempt for the thousands of Unite members that work in GE,” she wrote.
 
“It really is no wonder that there is such a degree of anger amongst the workforce and such a low level of morale. This will doubtless display itself in a high level of attrition in the future.
 
“To take advantage of the Covid-19 crisis and attack employees’ pensions while they feel vulnerable is disgusting and shameful behaviour, particularly when GE is still in an extremely healthy financial situation.”

Unite national officer, Rhys McCarthy, added: “What the company is proposing is a savage blow for the 2,600 workers still in the DB scheme, many of whom have given decades of loyal service and who are now coming up to retirement.

“To be faced with a financial ‘hit’ which, in some cases, will amount to a loss of more than £11,000 a year in their retirement income is completely unacceptable.

“A ballot for industrial action, including strikes, is very much on the cards for the summer.

“GE’s reputation is very much at stake as it joins the sorry roll-call of companies which have cynically exploited the pandemic to attack the employment conditions of employees.”

In response, a GE spokesperson said: “The proposed changes to our UK DB pension offerings are difficult but necessary as we continue to accelerate GE's transformation and solidify our financial position while more closely aligning with current industry standards.

"We have completed a thorough 60 day consultation with plan members and are considering all questions and feedback.”

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