BMW is to hold talks with British labour body, Unite on Monday (10 April) in a bid to halt a series of eight damaging strikes called to protest against the automaker’s decision to halt a final pension scheme.

Unite has slammed the German manufacturer’s proposals as ‘pension robbery,’ insisting it will implement eight 24-hour walkouts, coupled with an overtime ban and work to rule from 19 April, unless BMW backs down on its plans.

Several meetings have already taken place between both sides since BMW unveiled plans to close its two UK-defined benefit pension schemes to future accrual from 1 June this year, affecting around 5,000 staff across all the German automaker’s British operations.

“The door is open,” a BMW spokesman told just-auto. “We are open to negotiations of course, absolutely [and] we are due to have a meeting with the union on Monday, that is the next step. There is a consultation process [since] January and we started discussions with the union after that.

“We are committed to the proposals we have made in the sense we see this as an important step in securing proper and sound pension provision for all our teams in the future and protect the competitiveness of the plants.”

Should talks fail, Unite says it will be the first time strike action has been taken by BMW’s workforce, following a 93% vote in favour of a walkout by workers at the German carmaker’s British sites at Cowley, Goodwood, Hams Hall and Swindon. 

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By GlobalData

Unite claims BMW’s proposal could see UK workers lose up to GBP160,000 (US$199,000) in retirement income, with a delegation of BMW UK staff going to the automaker’s headquarters in Munich last week to protest and hand in a petition citing ‘pension robbery.’

“The company is disappointed by Unite’s notification of industrial action,” said a BMW statement. “The company has put a number of options on the table to help employees transition to the proposed new pension arrangements and it remains open to negotiation.

“BMW Group has always prided itself in providing excellent pensions for its staff and wants to act now to protect future pension provision and to help improve the cost competitiveness of the UK as a manufacturing base.”

The manufacturer is proposing all staff join the company’s defined contribution scheme launched in early 2014 for new starters and which now has more than 2,000 members.

The company notes many UK companies have “significant pension fund shortfalls” in their defined benefit schemes and the cost and risk associated with these schemes is making them increasingly unsustainable and unaffordable for both members and companies.  

“BMW’s bosses need to get their heads out of the sand and recognise their pension pinching plans will not go unchallenged,” countered Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey. “BMW’s UK workers have contributed significantly to a record year in revenues and sales for the carmaker. They deserve better than broken pension promises and the loss of tens of thousands of pounds in retirement income.

“I urge BMW to step back from its May deadline for the pension scheme’s closure and negotiate seriously to find a settlement which is good for the business and good for the workforce.”

BMW UK workers to strike over pensions