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26 Nov Leeds Water Protest

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

GMB Water Workers Protest At Northern Consumer Council Meeting On 26 November In Leeds Over Profiteering And Cuts To Jobs And Pensions In The Industry

What we are dealing with are profitable monopolies benefitting from guaranteed incomes seeking to maintain profit margins by cutting back even more to the detriment of customers says GMB.

GMB members employed by United Utilities, Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water and Hartlepool Water will be attending Water Industry Consumer Council Northern Region meeting in Leeds on Thursday 26th November to raise concerns over profiteering and cuts to jobs and pensions by private sector owners of this monopoly industry.

Industrial action is underway at Northumbrian Water since 20th October over change the terms and benefits of its final salary scheme. The company claim that the current final salary scheme is unaffordable.  However the trade unions have said that Northumbrian Water has consistently failed to show costing to back up their arguments. See notes to editors for recent GMB press release on Northumbrian Water.

At United Utilities GMB is consulting members over proposals on the closure of the United Utilities Defined Benefit Pension Scheme for active members as of 31 March 2016. The scheme was closed to new entrants in 2006. See notes to editors for copy of press release dated 19th October re these proposals.

The Consumer Council for the Water Industry Northern Region public meeting will be held on 26th November at The Queens Hotel in Leeds from 10.15am - 3.00pm.

Eamon O Hearn, lead officer for the Water Industry, said “The agenda will include an update from United Utilities on its compensation pay-out to more than 300,000 customers in Lancashire, who were advised to boil their tap water for several weeks after traces of cryptosporidium were found in supplies.

GMB members attending the meeting make clear that what we are dealing with are profitable monopolies benefitting from guaranteed incomes, seeking to maintain profit margins at the expense of cutting back even more on staffing and pensions to the detriment of customers.

In particular they will draw attention to the following points:

  • Customer bills up 40% since privatisation;
  • Debt levels up over 100% since privatisation; Northumbrian in particular has borrowed huge amounts of money to maintain profits and pay down debt (UK Parent Holding Company gearing is 98% inc Shareholder Loans), rather than invest it's own money.
  • Hundreds of millions of pounds tax windfall in last 5 years; Northumbrian and United both experienced significant tax windfalls over the past 5 years, £146M and £226M respectively.
  • Dividends outstripping profits;
  • Pensions down 40%;
  • Staff numbers down though National Audit Office report says that there are few efficiencies left in the industry following privatisation.

Our members are just looking to maintain their current reduced pensions, not enhance them at customers' expense.”


Contact: Eamon O Hearn 07918 777097 or for United Utilities Eddie Parker 07740 804046 or Northumbrian Water - Maxine Bartholomew GMB Organiser 07870 176742 or 0191 233 3930 or GMB press office 07921 289 880.

Notes to editors

Copy of GMB press releases dated 19th November.


MP's, customers and others are now questioning why the company cannot afford to maintain the existing pension scheme despite making huge profits says GMB

GMB and Unite members engaged in industrial action over pension cuts at Northumbrian Water are taking part in a further protest rally in Durham on Saturday 21st November 2015..

This action followed ballots held by both unions. The action covers Northumbrian Water operations which supplies 2.7 million people in Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside as well as the counties of Durham and Northumberland and parts of North Yorkshire.

The details of the further protest are as follows:

Between 10.30 am - 12.30 pm on Saturday 21 November 2015,
Boldon House,
Wheatlands Way,
Pity Me,
Durham DH1 5FA.


There will be members there with flags and banners and be available for interview.


Maxine Bartholomew, GMB Regional Organiser, said “Northumbrian Water is spending thousands of pounds on contractors and extra equipment. Managers are having to work shifts around the clock and all non-essential work has been cancelled. The Company cannot sustain these costs indefinitely.

MP's, customers and others are now questioning why the Company cannot afford to maintain the existing pension scheme, despite making huge profits, returning vast sums to CKI and continuing to pay large bonuses to its highly paid directors.

Northumbrian Water is an exceptionally profitable company. According to the National Audit Office, they have experienced a tax windfall of £140 million pounds. In addition over the previous 15 months they have recorded an operating profit of £384.3 million pounds.

However despite this level of profit they are threatening the pensions of GMB and Unite members who are currently taking industrial action against Northumbrian Water.

GMB members are not seeking any enhancements to their pensions that would increase costs to customers. They are only seeking to maintain what they currently have.

Clearly Northumbrian can afford to provide a decent pension to its workforce.

After all it is the hard working employees that have largely been responsible for the current level of company profits; from which managers extract a healthy and sizeable benefits package.

Thousands of GMB members have contacted The Chief Executive, Heidi Motram. She enjoys a pay package of nearly £1 million while Hong Kong based owners Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings (CKI) continues to maintain an excellent rate of return on its initial investment.”


Copy of GMB press release dated 19 October 2015


NAO report of £1,250m windfall proves that water companies can't cry poverty as they seek to shift more costs and efficiencies onto the workforce says GMB

GMB National Water Forum, covering nearly 10,000 members in the water industry, on Monday 19th and Tuesday 20th October in Sheffield will consider proposals on the closure of the United Utilities Defined Benefit Pension Scheme for active members as of 31 March 2016. The scheme was closed to new entrants in 2006.

There will be GMB United Utilities Representatives meeting on Thursday 22nd October followed by meeting of the joint unions in United Utilities on Friday 30th October to agree a joint union response to these proposals.

GMB members at United Utilities provide water and sewage services to around seven million people in North West England. These members look after the water and wastewater infrastructure across the North West covering:

Over 42,000 kilometres of water pipes, from Cumbria to Cheshire.

Over 76,000 kilometres of sewers.

569 wastewater treatment works.

94 water treatment works.

Over 56,000 hectares of catchment land.

Last week GMB and Unite issued notice to Northumbrian Water that members will commence indefinite industrial action short of a strike from 4.30pm on Tuesday 20th October in a separate dispute over pensions. See notes to editor for copy of previous press release on the dispute.

Eddie Parker, GMB regional officer, said “GMB met with senior representatives of the company on 16th October in order to commence consultation on pensions. The company proposes to move active Defined Benefit member’s to the existing UU Defined Contribution Pension Scheme on 1st April 2016. The accrued pension value as of 31st March 2016 will be protected in line with the relevant scheme rules.

The company have made the union aware that they intend to communicate to all impacted employees immediately and then begin a formal 60 day consultation beginning on 16th November.

The union have conveyed their extreme disgust, dissatisfaction and concerns with these proposals.

The discussion at the GMB National Water Forum on a response to these UU pensions proposals means that it is very likely that the prospect for industrial action will move a step closer.

Eamon O Hearn, lead officer for the Water Industry, added “Last week the NAO reported that water companies gained £840m from lower-than-forecast rates of interest and £410m from reduced corporation tax rates.

The NAO report proves that water companies can't cry poverty as they seek to shift more costs and efficiencies onto the workforce.

GMB members have played a key role in delivering significant improvements in service and delivery standards, despite continued reductions in front line staff since privatisation.

The warning that there is little scope for further efficiency gains left in the industry will come as cold comfort to GMB members in Northumbrian Water or in United Utilities, and in the wider industry, who have seen their pensions attacked in order to drain profits out of the UK and into the hands of opaque holding companies.

GMB welcomes the NAO call for greater transparency over the financial and corporate structures of water companies which echoes previous GMB campaigns against private equity barons.

Their raids on pensions and reductions in workforce numbers have drained profits out of the UK and even the NAO are saying there is little left to cut."




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