WATER unions warned they are pressing ahead with plans to ballot workers for industrial action, as they dismissed Northumbrian Water's latest pension proposals as "pure greed".

The utility firm based at Pity Me, near Durham, has offered a new defined benefits pension scheme to some of its employees to replace an existing final salary scheme.

Hong Kong group CKI owns the company, which supplies water to 2.7 million people in the North-East and 1.8 million people in the South-East.

According to trade union GMB, the final salary scheme has a deficit of £153m. CKI, however, has said the figure is closer to £270m.

The company has offered to contribute 19.5 per cent and members will add 8 per cent to the new Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) scheme.

It said it will pay £110m into the scheme over the next five years and also absorb increased annual national insurance costs of £1.5m.

Maxine Bartholomew, GMB regional organiser at Northumbrian Water, told The Northern Echo: "They can afford to pay their staff more than this.

"It is a very profitable company - how much money does it want to make?

"This is nothing but pure greed on the part of Northumbrian Water which used to be a good employer but now they are way down the list of people you would want to work for."

In its last set of accounts the water firm's pre-tax profit was £246m.

Richard Warneford, Northumbrian Water Group’s Wastewater director and chair of the Pensions Consultation Group, said: “We understand that our employees would like the final salary pension scheme to stay the same, however this is no longer sustainable.

“Many of our customers will have already seen changes to their own pensions with businesses being forced to close final salary schemes as costs have risen in challenging economic times and deficits have increased as people live longer.

“After eight months of extensive, inclusive and transparent consultation for all 1600 employees in our final salary scheme, the new pension plan has already been revised twice. That collective consultation will conclude on September 1 when all feedback received will be reviewed to shape the final outcome.

“We are committed to pay £22m into the scheme every year until at least 2020 and the new CARE scheme will provide a very good pension scheme for members which still compares very favourably with what other companies offer and will be one of the best in the water industry.

“We are aware that the Trades Unions plan to undertake a ballot. Our priority will always be to safeguard our service to customers and to protect the environment.

“Should some employees decide to take industrial action we have contingency plans in place to respond to any impact this may have in the communities we serve,” he added.

Final details of the company’s new defined benefit CARE pension scheme will be announced on September 10.