Bosses at global conglomerate GE have been accused of using the pandemic to slash the retirement incomes of about 2,600 employees to the tune of thousands of pounds a year.

Unite the union said that the American-owned multinational’s proposals to switch the pension scheme from final salary (defined benefit) to a defined contribution one, which is at the mercy of fluctuations in world stock markets, was ‘a savage kick in the teeth’ for the workers.

Unite said that such was the rising tide of anger amongst its members, many of whom had given decades of loyal service, that a ballot for industrial action, including strike action, this summer was very much on the cards.

The loss of pension income depends on an individual’s circumstances, but could, in certain cases, be more than £11,000 a year, if the changes are allowed to be imposed from 1 January 2022.

The sites that could be affected by possible strike action include GE sites in Cardiff, Cheltenham, GE Caledonian (Prestwick) and Rugby, as well as Dowty Propellers in Gloucestershire. There are also Unite members who are service engineers with a national remit.

In a letter to Kevin O’Neill, CEO GE UK and Ireland, Unite national officer Linda McCulloch castigated the company for protecting the pensions of its top executives while attacking the pensions of the wider workforce.

Linda McCulloch wrote: “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. 

“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.” 

Commenting Unite national officer Rhys McCarthy said: “What the company is proposing is a savage blow for the 2,600 workers still in the defined benefit 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.”


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065.

Please note the numbers above are for journalists’ enquiries only.

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.