The long-running dispute at Unilever has ended with Usdaw union members accepting changes to the company’s pension scheme.

The dispute was sparked by Unilever’s decision to replace its final salary pension scheme with a career earnings scheme, which workers claimed would substantially reduce the income workers would receive in retirement.

Leaders of the three unions involved – Usdaw, UNITE and GMB – called workers out on strike earlier this year.

They claimed Unilever’s plans to axe the final salary pension would see retirement income of thousands of staff slashed by up to 40%.

Following talks held at ACAS in February, Unilever agreed to make a number of significant improvements to the career earnings scheme rules but maintained their position that the existing final salary scheme was unsustainable.

The offer of the improved scheme was put to a ballot of members of all three unions.

But while both Usdaw and GMB members voted to reject it, members of UNITE voted by a margin of two to one to accept the offer.

Faced with a significant number of workers accepting Unilever’s improved offer, Usdaw representatives agreed to ballot their members again.

David Johnson, national officer for the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, said: “While we have achieved some important improvements to the replacement scheme, our members remain angry and bitterly disappointed by Unilever’s decision to close the final salary pension scheme.

“However, once a significant number of their colleagues had voted to accept Unilever’s improved offer, Usdaw members were left with little option but to reluctantly follow suit or face fighting the company on their own.”

“Our members can be proud of the way they have conducted themselves throughout this dispute and for the determination, resolve and unity they have shown in resisting the company’s attack on their future living standards.”

Usdaw represents workers at Unilever’s manufacturing facilities at Port Sunlight in Wirral and Seacroft in Leeds.

The union also has a small number of members at Unilever’s Research and Development facility in Port Sunlight and at the company’s factory in Warrington.

At the time of the dispute Unilever said the decision on pensions had been “a tough but necessary choice which reflected the realities of rising life expectancy and increased market volatility.”

They added: “We believe the provision of final salary pensions is a broken model which is no longer appropriate for Unilever.

They claimed that pension arrangements – due to be implemented in July – were “exceptionally competitive” and had been significantly enhanced as a result of feedback from workers during a 100-day consultation process.