Unilever is set to meet again with union officials to discuss moves to change the company’s UK pension scheme, plans that have enraged staff and led to a series of strikes.

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant has accepted an invitation from arbitration service ACAS to enter into negotiations with officials from the Unite, GMB and Usdaw unions.

Unilever’s plan to end final salary pensions and open a scheme based on career average earnings has angered employees in the UK, which last month held 11 days of rolling strikes at sites across the country.

Unions and employees have argued the move would lead to staff losing up to 40% of their expected pension. They believe there is no justification for the plans and claim the company has admitted there is no financial necessity for the changes.

However, Unilever today (3 February) stood by its planned new pension arrangements and repeated its claim that it had already changed its original proposals after talks with unions last summer, negotiations that it says unions walked away from.

“We believe that the provision of final salary pensions is a broken model which is no longer appropriate for Unilever. The new career average arrangements, which will come into effect from July this year, offer our employees a defined benefit pension which is fit for Unilever UK and the times we live in today,” Unilever said.

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“Our new pension arrangements … were significantly enhanced in a total of 13 different ways as a result of employee feedback during consultation. Our UK pension arrangements continue to be exceptionally competitive and such arrangements are unavailable at most other UK companies, where the shift is predominantly towards pure defined contribution schemes.”

Unite, GMB and Usdaw issued a joint statement in which they “welcomed” Unilever’s decision to enter into arbitration.

“We welcome the fact that Unilever has at last recognised its responsibility to talk to us about a possible resolution to the dispute. We hope the agreement to talk through ACAS is a genuine indication of a willingness to engage meaningfully in an effort to find a solution. However, it is very early days and the dispute will continue until proposals have been put forward that are acceptable to our members.”