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25.04.2012, 14:16 TheGuardian.co.uk

Ford faces threat of first strikes since 1970s

Ford faces threat of first strikes since 1970s

Ford is facing the threat of its first outbreak of industrial action since the 1970s after the Unite trade union served notice of a strike ballot at the car manufacturer.

Unite will ballot 2,500 members at Ford UK, whose sites include the east London engine plant that was the recently the subject of the Britcom film Made in Dagenham. In a dispute reminiscent of last year's clash between Unite and Unilever. The union is objecting to Ford's plans to close its final salary pension scheme to newcomers, as well as lowering starter pay rates.

A Unite official said the union "fiercely" opposed the move and warned that the company was close to industrial action. "Ford faces the very real prospect of the first strike since the 1970s. Unite will not stand by and allow Ford to create a two tier workforce on pay and pensions. We urge Ford to return to the negotiating table if it wants to avoid this dispute," said Roger Maddison, Unite's national officer. Unite fears that the move will lead, as at Unilever, to the ultimate closure of the final salary scheme.

Ford employs 15,000 staff across the UK and its employees last went on strike in 1978 in a dispute over pay that became the first in a wave of union walkouts later termed the winter of discontent. The Transport and General Workers Union, the forebear of Unite, was a key player in the strike. As well as Dagenham, Unite is also balloting a number of sites including Southampton, Halewood in Merseyside and Ford's UK headquarters in Basildon, Essex. Made in Dagenham, starring Sally Hawkins and Bob Hoskins, was based on an industrial dispute led by female machinists at the plant demanding equal pay.

Ford said it remained "willing and available" to hold talks with Unite. "The Company has sought to discuss with the Union the financial challenges of its defined benefit pension funds, which are significantly in deficit. Around 80% of all private sector firms have now closed their defined benefit pension funds to new hires. The Company has categorically confirmed that it has no plans to close its pension funds to existing members and that the funds remain open to existing members," the company said in a statement.

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