Hundreds of Nissan workers marched outside the Sunderland plant to protest against the company’s plans to close its defined benefits pension scheme.
The protest at the Sunderland plant, which was organised by union Unite, saw workers gather nearby on July 11 at 11.30am and march towards Nissan’s main gate at 12.00.
On June 2, Nissan announced its proposal to close the DB Nissan Pension Plan to future accruals, with effect from 30th September 2020.
The automotive giant says it has had to close the pension scheme because of growing costs.
But union bosses say around 80% of the workers in the scheme have worked for more than 20 years and stand to lose substantial sums.
Unite said the closure of the scheme will reduce the financial security of 1,800 workers and claim the plan is ‘opportunistic’.
This week they warned that the dispute could lead to the ‘first ever’ strike at the plant.
They also said the changes will have a huge negative impact on hundreds of members’ final pensions with many having to change their retirement plans.
During the march today, the group wore red T-shirts and held up signs saying “No Pension, No Retention” and “Betrayal.”
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said Nissan workers are “skilled and dedicated” and deserve they better.
He said: “This is wages that are payable on retirement, this is about pensioner dignity this is about addressing pensioner poverty. These are your earnings during your life in order to ensure you can retire with some dignity.
“If Nissan thinks that for 1,800 that they should take this away then they should dream on and think again.
“They need to sit around the table with us and come to a constructive agreement about how they are going to finance the ongoing pension arrangements in this business.
“This is an incredibly loyal, dedicated workforce that has worked here in excess of 20 years on average that are now being told that they are going to be losing their pension scheme and they are not having it they are getting incredibly angry.
“They have worked all the way through this pandemic they have produced PPE for our NHS and social care workers.
“They’re the world’s most productive plant they’re the largest plant in Britain, they produce a world-class product they’re a skilled workforce and they deserve better.”
One worker Robert Bland, 48, marched in the rally with his young daughter who held up powerful signs which read: “Don’t take my daddy’s pension” and “No Uni for me now.”
Robert, who was worked at Nissan for 21 years, said: “It’s affecting our retirement plans, I’m going to have to work longer so I’ll probably have to work for two or three extra years.
“This was something that was promised to us when we signed our contracts.
“I have a family and a lot of these workers have families and this affects all of our futures.”
Workers continued to march up to the main gates of the plant where a number of speakers made powerful speeches.
Steve Turner told the workers: “If you want to fight for your scheme if you want to fight for dignity in retirement if you want to fight for a pension for your kids if you want to fight for your futures and the future of your families, we’re going to have to step up stand up and have that fight.
“And that means you’re going to have to protest and protest and protest and if it means that at the end of the day they are not listening you are going to have to force them to listen.
“It’s not a gift for them to take away, it’s your right, it’s your pay in retirement you earn it while you’re at work and how great is it to see such a great turn out today.
“Never give it up, too many pensions schemes are being given up, in the past, we have walked away from them and that’s how we get pensioner poverty and isolation and desperation and mental health issues set in.
“That’s why so many pensioners have to make choices about whether they put food on the table or pay bills or not quite disgracefully pay for their TV license when they reach the age of 75.”
Although Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson could not attend the rally she said she stands in “solidarity” with workers.
She said: “I’m sending you my solidarity and support for all the action you are taking today and down the line.
“This is a very worrying time for our workers in the automotive industry across the country and around the world.
“The economic impact of the coronavirus is undoubtedly going to be severe and we already have seen in recent days and weeks the effect it has upon people’s jobs.
“No matter how challenging the situation is companies find themselves in as a result of the crisis they absolutely should not be using this as an opportunity to downgrade terms and conditions for workers.
“Many will already be facing increasing uncertainty about their futures prior to Covid-19 in the sector which is why the changes being proposed to your pensions are even more unacceptable.”
A Nissan spokesman said: “We are in close consultation with affected employees and their representatives as we try to resolve this together. The consultation will continue over the summer, and feedback from employees is vital in helping to shape its outcome.
“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.”