Workers at consumer goods giant Unilever are to stage a new series of strikes in a huge escalation of a row over pensions, it was announced today.
Leaders of three trade unions decided to call strikes for up to 12 days starting on January 17 in protest at the ending of Unilever's final salary pension scheme.
Thousands of employees will be involved at sites across the country including Purfleet, Port Sunlight, Warrington, Leeds, Crumlin, Gloucester, Manchester, Burton-on-Trent and Cheste.
In a statement Unilever said that it was "deeply concerned" by the unions' "disproportionate" decision.
Unilver said: "We believe the provision of final salary pensions is a broken model which is no longer appropriate for Unilever.
"It is our responsibility to protect the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of our business, and to do so is in the best interests of our people.
"It is currently not clear how the dispute with the trade unions will be resolved - but we are continuing to urge our employees who have participated in industrial action to give further objective consideration to the very competitive new arrangements."
Unions said the action will hit production of goods including Dove, Marmite, PG Tips, Pot Noodle and Hellman's Mayonnaise.
Unite, the GMB and Usdaw say the company's plans to axe the final salary pension scheme will see the retirement income of thousands of staff slashed by up to 40%.
Jennie Formby, national officer of Unite, said after today's union meeting in Liverpool: "It would seem that Unilever believed the workers would give up after one day's strike but they are badly mistaken.
"The workforce is angry that the company has refused to meet us or to attend talks at the conciliation service Acas."
Allan Black, national officer of the GMB said: "Unilever need to get the message that profitable companies will not be allowed to walk away from their savings commitments to their loyal workforce."
Mr Black warned of further strikes unless the row is resolved.