Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Water Plant Workers Set to Strike over Pensions; FINANCE

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Water Plant Workers Set to Strike over Pensions; FINANCE

Article excerpt

Byline: TOM KEIGHLEY tom.keighley@ncjmedia.co.uk

THE threat of industrial action by water workers in the North East has come closer after changes were announced to Northumbrian Water Group workers' pensions scheme.

Maxine Bartholomew, GMB regional organiser, said the company's decision to move some workers from a final salary scheme to a defined benefits pension scheme was based on nothing but greed for profit by the firm's Hong Kong parent company.

GMB and three other unions expect to ballot members in the North East and Essex and Suffolk - where the firm runs Essex and Suffolk Water.

After closing its final salary pension scheme to new entrants at the end of 2007, Northumbrian Water proposed to put some existing staff on a defined benefits pension scheme to which it will contribute 19.5% and members will add 8%.

Around 1,600 of Northumbrian Water Group's 3,100 strong workforce in the North East and in Essex and Suffolk are being consulted on the plans.

The firm has argued the old scheme was not sustainable, but unions say it will hit long-serving employees who have contributed to profits.

Talks have been ongoing since January with no outcome.

Ms Bartholomew said: "They can certainly afford to keep this scheme open, we've absolutely no doubt about that.

"At the last meeting with the company we told them we couldn't continue to hold talks unless they've got something else they can bring to the table.

"If it was a company on its knees we would want to sit down and explore options, but this is profitable company we're talking about."

Pat McCourt, organiser for Unite, added: "What is happening is a scandal. While massive profits are being sent back to China, thousands of loyal workers in Northumbria Water face poverty in their later years. …

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