A STRIKE threat still looms over Southampton’s Ford factory after union bosses rejected what they called a “cynical bribe” to end a pensions dispute.

More than 150 retired workers descended on the motor giant’s UK headquarters in Essex to fight controversial plans to cut pension inflation increases.

The former staff members, including 21 from the Swaythling plant, braved the icy weather and heavy mist to stand together at the base in Warley.

The row was sparked over plans to change the way pensions are calculated from the Retail Price Index (RPI) to the lower Consumer Price Index (CPI).

The Daily Echo understands that Ford offered a one-off cash payment to current workers but refused to reverse its proposal in relation to former staff.

Protesters held aloft a variety of placards and the procession marched to the reception of the six-storey building. Staff inside watched the drama, and passing motorists tooted their horns to show support.

Unite union boss Ian Woodland said: “It was an attempt to bribe the workers at the expense of the former members of staff and we refused to even see the offer because that would be completely unacceptable.

“It was not an angry meeting from their side, they noted down what we said and we told them to come back with a different offer that we could discuss.”

A new meeting is planned for early April.

Steve Slominski, 54, of Eastleigh, who was at the plant for 30 years, said: “We showed we have got fight and are prepared to take action.

“There were some surprised faces from the office when they saw us, ghosts from the past, looming out of the mist. It is the first time a lot of us have seen the headquarters that was built with our blood, sweat and tears.”

Dave Lewis, 62, of Southampton, said: “I think the presence outside the offices showed the strength of feeling. They have misled people in the Southampton plant, they are trying to take away what they promised.

“I am not surprised but I am disappointed. It will take money out of pockets.”

Kevin Hayes, 59, of Bassett, who had been with Ford for 30 years, said: “They have mis-sold the redundancy package to the workforce.”

The group said that under the current plans they will get a pension inflation boost of 3.1 per cent instead of 4.6 per cent. This will come into effect on April 1 but any agreement reached will need to be backdated, according to union bosses.

If no resolution is reached the firm will ballot on industrial action. It could lead to the first national strike since the 1970s with 11,000 workers downing tools in Hampshire, Dagenham in Essex, Bridgend in South Wales, Halewood in Merseyside, Daventry in Northampton-shire and Dunton in Essex.

A Ford spokesman said: “Our view remains that Ford’s final salary pension provisions stand comparison with the best pension arrangements in the UK private sector and the company continues to meet the significant cost of providing the promised level of pension benefits set out in the rules of the fund.”