Nissan workers will attend a socially distanced rally in Sunderland on Saturday (11 July) in response to the automaker's "disdain and disregard" for workers impacted by plans to close its defined benefits pension scheme, the UK union Unite said on Wednesday (8 July).

Unite, the UK and Ireland's largest union, said there was growing anger at Nissan's "opportunistic" plans which will affect around 1,800 staff, as well as its refusal to offer an industry standard lump sum usually provided when such schemes are closed.

The union said that without "substantial movement" by the company on the scheme's closure, which would result in staff losing tens of thousands of pounds from their pensions, there could be industrial action at Nissan in Sunderland for the first time. 

Unite stressed those attending the rally, the first held since the plant opened in 1984, have to provide contact details to union organisers and that participants are expected to adhere to strict social distancing measures at all times. 

Masks and hand sanitiser will also be available during the rally and Unite representatives will be monitoring health and safety procedures. 

Protesters will gather near the plant on Saturday at 1130 and march towards Nissan's main gate at 1200, where the rally will be addressed by a number of speakers, including Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner. 

Unite national officer Steve Bush said: "The opportunistic closure of the defined benefits scheme will reduce the financial security of nearly 2,000 of the company's longest serving and loyal staff by tens of thousands of pounds.

"These staff are facing an unexpected and gaping hole in their financial security during retirement, but rather than attempt to find a compromise Nissan has met their concerns with disdain and disregard.

"Normally staff who accept the closure of defined pension schemes are offered a lump sum as compensation for the huge losses incurred, but Nissan is refusing to even countenance this. 

"Our members are incredibly angry at the company's disgraceful behaviour. Without substantial movement during consultation, this dispute could result in the first ever industrial action being taken at Nissan in Sunderland."

A Nissan spokesman told just-auto: "We aim to provide competitive benefits to our highly valued staff, but these have to be balanced with the long term sustainability of our business.

"The level of company investment needed to maintain the defined benefit pension plan has grown to unsustainable levels.

"For this reason we are in discussions with affected employees  and their representatives about the proposed closure of the plan."