ST Helens glass giant Pilkington is set to axe more than 100 jobs and introduce a freeze on pension pay in a double whammy to the local economy.
GMB union chiefs hit out at plans to cut 87 jobs at the float glass works on the Greengate and Cowley Hill sites, in addition to the 33 job losses already announced at the Watson Street works.
The company also announced plans to cap the rate of pensionable pay after March – a move designed to help tackle a forecast £326m deficit in the Pilkington pension pot.
Senior politicians and union leaders joined forces to condemn the plans, which represent the latest blow to the once-mighty Pilkington name.
GMB bosses say that, in some cases, it could reduce the final pensionable pay by up to 40 per cent. Senior organiser Charlie Leonard said: “The company is suffering financially and, at this moment in time, is making heavy losses. Nonetheless, in terms of the redundancies, the GMB is determined to reduce and mitigate the impact of job cuts and to resist compulsory redundancies.
“On pensions, with the changes, the younger you are in the PSS scheme the worse it would be. This draconian step is being resisted by the GMB. Not only does it erode future benefits it also has an impact on past benefits – such as accrued pension.”
He added: “Even though the manufacturing outlook is gloomy in the short run, our members are prepared to stand up and fight.
“We are now undergoing a consultative ballot of our members. This could well lead to a ballot for industrial action if the company does not change its position.”
A Pilkington spokesman said yesterday the firm, once one of the biggest employers in St Helens, hoped to avoid the need for compulsory redundancies.
“In the current environment some changes must be made to enable the Pilkington Superannuation Scheme to remain open to limited future accrual. Even with the proposed changes, a deficit will remain and needs to be managed,” said the spokesman.
“The issue of restructuring is completely separate. The company is working with local trade union representatives to try to reach the required numbers via voluntary means.”
Dave Watts MP described the announcement as “a blow” to the town, but blamed the company’s current woes on Britain’s dire economic climate.
He said: “Pilks depend on growth in the industries in which they operate - and that has flatlined. Hopefully, if we can get some growth back in the economy, that trend can be reversed. The worry is that things just aren’t getting any better.
“My view on pensions is that it’s an easy thing for companies to target when it comes to saving money - but that doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. When people reach retirement age they should be entitled to expect a decent living standard.”
Deputy council leader Barrie Grunewald added: “This is a serious and unexpected blow and we are dismayed that – when the council is doing all it can to support the local economy - one of the borough’s leading employers is again announcing large job losses.”
Pilkington was formed in St Helens in 1826 and once employed thousands of local men and women. It was sold to Japanese glass rivals NSG in 2006.