Unilever's work council threatens strike action over margarine sale

Unilever is offloading its margarine division
Unilever is offloading its margarine division

Unilever’s Dutch Works Council is threatening to call for strike action across the consumer goods giant’s global factories if potential buyers of its margarine business don’t agree to protect jobs and pension guarantees.

The Anglo-Dutch company shortlisted four private equity bidders earlier this month in the £6.5bn auction for its spreads unit which includes Flora, Stork and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

CVC Capital Partners, KKR, Apollo and Platinum Equity have been named as the quartet of successful suitors so far.

Hermann Soggeberg, chairman of Unilever’s works council, told The Sunday Telegraph that the division’s sale was of “great concern” as it affects more than 1,100 European employees.

The work council chairman said he would write to Unilever and prospective bidders  in the next week to make “official demands that there will be a sustainable business plan which includes job protection and a maintenance of current terms and conditions, including of pension schemes.”

Mr Soggeberg said that the works council was prepared to make demands “on an international level and ask our colleagues at all Unilever’s factories to support our demands whichever way they can.” He said that he would be leaving it up to each country and factory but “mobilising the factories could be an option”.

The works council succeeding in gaining similar guarantees when Unilever sold Birdseye in 2006. Dutch law typically offers protection for one year after the sale of an asset.

The sale of the margarine unit is seen as an emotional one by the works council because it is a “historic pillar” of the business. Unilever was created back in 1929 when Britain’s Lever Brothers merged with the Netherland’s Margarine Unie.

The FTSE 100 company announced in April that it would be selling off its spreads business as it scrambles to reshape itself following Kraft Heinz's £115bn takeover attempt at the start of the year.