Hundreds of United Utilities workers are on strike today (16 March) over proposed cuts to their pension scheme, with further strike action expected to go ahead on Monday (19 March).
A picket line has formed outside the water company’s headquarters at Langley Mere Business Park in Warrington.
Several others are in place throughout the company’s catchment area including Blackburn, Bolton, Macclesfield, and Rivington.
United Utilities told Utility Week around 600 employees of its 5,500-strong workforce are on strike.
Last week, the company confirmed it plans to keep its service “running as normal” during the strike.
Water workers taking industrial action include those who repair pipes, treat water waste and resolve public queries.
According to Unison North West this is the first time its members who work for United Utilities have gone on strike since 1992.
The union said the action will “impact the whole of the North West region”.
It said the strike was called due to a United Utilities management plan to impose changes to a staff pension scheme from 1 April.
It claims the changes will reduce scheme members’ pensions “significantly”, with younger members of staff “due to lose as much as £10,000 per year of their guaranteed income in retirement”.
But United Utilities said the costs of keeping its final salary pension scheme open are predicted to keep on rising to “unsustainable levels”.
A spokesperson for the company, said: “Many companies have found that final salary pension schemes have become much more expensive to fund and UU is no exception.”
They added: “The unions helped to shape the final version of the new scheme. Rather than scrap the defined benefit scheme as planned, we agreed to introduce a hybrid scheme, which will cost us considerably more. So, we have made considerable concessions already and hope that the unions will show a similar desire to compromise.”
Vic Walsh, Unison North West regional organiser, said: “The pension scheme is in good financial health and there is no need for these changes to be made.”
The union said the water company’s pension scheme was reported to have a surplus of £248 million in March 2017.
It also highlighted more than £1.25 billion was paid out to shareholders over the past five years and claimed United Utilities has a target of increasing its dividend payments each year “by at least the rate of inflation”.
Employees who are members of Unite and Prospect are also taking part in the strike.
In 2016, staff who were members of the GMB union took strike action.