Consumer goods maker Unilever Plc/NV suffered its first ever strike in Britain on Friday as workers at the Persil detergent and PG Tips tea group walked out in a dispute over the axing of their final salary pensions scheme.
Union members voted overwhelmingly for industrial action last month to prompt the rare walkout over pensions at a UK blue-chip company after Unilever declined to continue talks over the pension change in an eight-month long dispute.
Union officials said members were taking one-day strike action across all of Unilever's 12 plants including its big detergents plant at Port Sunlight, its ice cream factory in Gloucester and margarine facility at Purfleet.
The Anglo-Dutch group, which employs around 7,000 workers at its plants in Britain, is looking to move all 5,000 members' promised final salary pensions to a less generous career average scheme by July 2012. The company abandoned final salary pensions for new joiners in 2008 and 2,000 workers are on the new scheme.
Three of Britain's biggest unions -- Unite, GMB and Usdaw -- have around 2,350 members working at Unilever and say the company has not held talks over the dispute since October.
This is the first time Unilever has suffered a strike in the UK and we would urge it to listen to the facts as we are willing to talk, said Jennie Formby, Unite's national officer.
A Unilever spokeswoman confirmed the action was taking place but said the company had had time to prepare for the action so there would be no shortages of its products made in Britain such as Dove deodorants, Comfort fabric softeners and Colman's mustard.
Unilever is looking to push through the pension changes as its UK scheme currently has a deficit of around 680 million pounds.
The British strike is the first in the group's 81-year history, and comes after hundreds of thousands of public sector workers went on strike in Britain last week to protest over pension reform.
(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Hans-Juergen Peters)