Pensions strike by water workers in Warrington

Andy Ford, Warrington Socialist Party

United Utilities, a company with revenues of £1,700 million and profits of £664.3 million in the last year, is attacking its workers’ pensions. The company paid a dividend of 37p per share to its backers in the City but now claims it cannot afford decent pensions for the staff who generate those revenues.

Members of the GMB general union gathered to picket and protest outside the company’s Warrington headquarters. The pickets were watched by a handful of company ‘marshals’ from just inside the perimeter.

GMB steward Steve explained that the company has served notice that it wishes 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 plugs 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 is not responsible for any shortfalls. Up till last year the company was reporting that the scheme was doing OK, now they say they can’t cover the future costs”.

United Utilities says that it values its employees as ‘stakeholders’. But figures obtained by GMB show that in the last year it distributed £259 million in dividends to shareholders, but is now fighting over £15 million for the pension scheme.


Obviously where the ‘stakeholders’ are concerned some are more equal than others!

The three year revaluation of the scheme is due this year. GMB is 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 workers 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.