GE Stock – Scottish aviation workers face strike ballot over ‘kick in teeth’ pension switch
AVIATION workers at the global conglomerate GE in Scotland and other sites across the UK could be facing a strike ballot over what has been described as “swingeing” cuts to their retirement income.
The union Unite has accused bosses of using the pandemic to slash the pensions of 2600 employees by thousands of pound a year.
Unite said the American-owned multinational’s proposals to switch the pensions scheme from final salary (defined benefit) to a defined contribution model – which is at the mercy of world stock market fluctuations – was a “savage kick in the teeth” for workers.
The union said that such was the level of anger amongst its members, that a ballot for industrial action this summer including strikes – was very much on the cards.
It said the loss of pension income depends on an individual’s circumstances, but could in some cases, be more than £11,000 a year, if the changes are allowed to be imposed from next January.
The sites that may be affected by possible strike action include GE operations in Prestwick, Cardiff, Cheltenham and Rugby, as well as Dowty Propellers in Gloucestershire. There are also Unite members who are service engineers with a national remit.
Last year GE Caledonian cut 150 jobs at Prestwick under a voluntary redundancy scheme because of the pandemic.
In a letter to Kevin O’Neill, GE UK and Ireland CEO, Unite national officer Linda McCulloch criticised the company for protecting the pensions of top executives while attacking those of the wider workforce.
“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,” she said.
“It really is no wonder that there is such a degree of anger amongst the workforce and such a low level of morale … 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.”
Unite’s Rhys McCarthy added: “What the company is proposing is a savage blow for the 2600 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.”
A GE spokesperson said: “The proposed changes to our UK defined benefit pension offerings are difficult but necessary as we continue to accelerate GE’s transformation and solidify our financial position while more closely aligning with current industry standards. We have completed a thorough 60-day consultation with plan members and are considering all questions and feedback.”