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United Utilities Possible Pensions Dispute

Monday, October 19, 2015

GMB National Water Forum In Sheffield To Discuss Prospect Of Second Dispute As United Utilities Propose Closure Of Defined Benefit Pension Scheme

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 OHearn, 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."

End

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

Notes to editors:

Copy of previous GMB press releases:

Copy of GMB press release on Northumbrian Water dated 15th October:

GMB AND UNITE MEMBERS AT NORTHUMBRIAN WATER TO COMMENCE INDUSTRIAL ACTION FROM TUE 20TH OCT IN DISPUTE OVER CUTS IN PENSIONS

Far too much money is leaking out of the North East economy and this attempt to increase the amount leaking out has to stop says GMB

GMB and Unite have 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 dispute over pensions. See notes to editor for copy of previous press release on the dispute.

This follows ballots held by both unions. The action will cover 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.

Maxine Bartholomew, GMB Regional Organiser, said "Northumbrian Water call themselves an ethical company. But they choose to increase the shareholders' dividend while proposing pension cuts to the workers who make them these massive profits. According to the company's last financial statement, Northumbrian Water had a £384 million operating profit. How much profit is enough for this Company?

Our members' pensions are spent in the local economy which benefits the North East unlike the Chinese owners who send most of their profits back to Hong Kong. Far too much money is leaking out of the North East economy and this attempt to increase the amount leaking out has to stop".

Pat McCourt, Unite Officer, said "It's more than 30 years since there has been any industrial action with this Company. The Company is hell bent on forcing our members into taking this industrial action to protect their pensions and their income in retirement. After all pensions are just deferred pay and the Company are cutting that while siphoning off profits abroad".

-ENDS-

GMB release 4th September 2015

GMB Official Strike Ballot Begins On 11th Sept For Water Workers In North East And Eastern England In Dispute Over Pensions Cuts

Pension scheme is affordable as Northumbrian Water is highly profitable generating £384.3 million profit for 15 month ending March 2015 says GMB

GMB, Unite and Unison will conduct an official strike ballot for members employed in Northumbrian Water and Essex and Suffolk Water for industrial action on proposed changes to the Defined Benefit pension scheme. The ballot will commence on 11th September. See notes to editors for copy of GMB press release on the dispute dated 27 July 2015.

Northumbrian Water supplies 2.7 million people in Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside as well as the counties of Durham and Northumberland and parts of North Yorkshire. Essex and Suffolk Water supplies 1.8 million people in southeast Norfolk, east Suffolk, Essex and the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge.

Maxine Bartholomew, GMB organiser, said “Members of the three unions consider that there are major problems with the employer over the latest pension proposals.

Northumbrian Water was given a final opportunity on 21st August 2015 to avoid a formal dispute, but failed to reconsider its position and acknowledge the strength of feeling against the proposed changes with union members voting overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action via consultative ballot.

Contrary to claims made by Northumbrian Water, a formal ballot for industrial action will take place after consultation has concluded on 10th September 2015.

Northumbrian Water's attack on the Defined Benefit pension scheme is also an attack on the local economy, as members will have greatly reduced pension income to spend in their local communities upon retirement. Unions consider believe that Northumbrian Water customers would prefer this money remained in the local economy rather than being diverted offshore to foreign investors.

Throughout eight months of consultation, Northumbrian Water has consistently failed to demonstrate the existing Defined Benefit pension scheme is unaffordable. Northumbrian Water remains a highly profitable company which generated an operating profit of £384.3 million for the 15 month period ending March 2015.

The joint trade unions remain open to further discussions with Northumbrian Water prior to beginning to ballot their membership for industrial action on 11th September 2015.”

ENDS

 

GMB press release dated 27th July 2015

GMB TO BALLOT MEMBERS IN WATER INDUSTRY IN NORTH EAST AND EASTERN ENGLAND IN DISPUTE OVER PENSIONS CUTS

Northumbrian Water returned approximately £630 million profit back to the Hong Kong based owners CKI in the last two years so there is no need for these cuts says GMB

GMB, the union for water workers, is to undertake a consultative ballot of members employed by Northumbrian Water and its subsidiary companies in a dispute over pensions.

GMB will ballot members in the North East and members in Essex and Suffolk Water who are owned by Northumbrian Water.

Northumbrian Water supplies 2.7 million people in Tyneside, Wearside and Teesside as well as the counties of Durham and Northumberland and parts of North Yorkshire. Essex and Suffolk Water supplies 1.8 million people in southeast Norfolk, east Suffolk, Essex and the London boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge.

Discussions have been taking place since the early part of 2015 but no progress has been made.

Maxine Bartholomew, GMB Regional Organiser, said “Northumbrian Water want to change the terms and benefits of its final salary scheme. Unions are now undertaking a consultative ballot which could result in a formal ballot for industrial action.

The company claim that the current final salary scheme is unaffordable.  However the trade unions have said that Northumbrian Water have at each stage consistently failed to show costing to back up their arguments.

The BBC recently reported that Northumbrian Water returned approximately £630 million profit back to the Hong Kong based owners Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings (CKI) in the last two years so there is no need for these cuts.

CKI gave assurances to the regulator OFWAT and the Trustees of the pension scheme that it was fully committed to fully safeguarding pension entitlements.

CKI are just wallowing in greed.  Shareholders and offshoring are being put before pensioners. A product that falls from the sky naturally should not be abused in this way”.

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”.

Ends

 

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