Three’s planned merger with Vodafone is ‘a clear attack on consumers’ amid £2bn payout to Hong Kong owners

Three UK has been accused of profiteering from its planned merger with Vodafone after it paid its Hong Kong-listed owner, CK Hutchinson £2 billion.

According to trade union Unite, the dividend paid to CK Hutchinson, which is a conglomerate of the billionaire Li Ka-Shing owned by Three, is highly profitable as an independent business and could remain sustainable without merging.

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If UK regulators approve the merger, the main competition will be among Virgin Media O2, EE/BT, and Vodafone/Three.

Hutchison 3G claimed the one-time dividend payment followed the £10 billion sale to Cellnex of mobile phone masts across Europe, which included 6,600 UK assets.

However, the deal has been branded as a “clear attack on consumers” by Unite, which claims the dividend payment, shown in the company’s latest accounts, was made months before Three increased some of its contract prices by 14%.

Unite executive head of operations Sarah Carpenter said: “The siphoning of record dividends from Three while crying ‘failing firm’ to push through the harmful Vodafone merger is nothing short of cynical exploitation.

“This deal is a clear attack on consumers, threatening a staggering £300 hike in yearly mobile bills and putting 1,600 jobs on the line while making hollow promises about future investments.”

Carpenter added: “On top of that, entrusting vital blue light contracts to a Chinese state-influenced company raises alarming national security concerns. Unite continues to stand firm against this merger, fighting to protect the interests of workers, consumers, and the broader public.”