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Whisky workers could strike over French pay row

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One of Speyside’s major malt whisky producers could be hit by strikes from next month, after unions launched ballots of their members over a pay freeze imposed by its French owners.

Talks between the organisations and Chivas Brothers, through conciliation service Acas, have collapsed.

GMB Scotland accused the firm’s owner, Paris-based international wines and spirits giant Pernod Ricard, of “corporate greed” after it awarded wage rises to workers in France earlier this year. Unite Scotland said hundreds of members at the firm had “reached the end of the line.”

Maker of Chivas Regal, one of the world’s best-selling Scotch blends, Chivas Brothers owns 11 malt whisky distilleries in Moray, one near Grantown and another in Kirkwall, in Orkney.

The Glasgow-based company, which produces the Glenlivet and Aberlour single malts and employs around 1,600 people in Scotland, has a bond operation in Keith, where casks are filled, and more than 80 huge whisky warehouses near the town.

Union ballots close on May 10, with industrial action potentially being launched from the middle of the month.

‘It’s a slap in the face’

Unite regional co-ordinating officer Elaine Dougall said: “Unite’s members at Chivas Brothers have reached the end of the line following months of discussions which have barely moved us forward an inch.

“It would take the company around £300,000 to award the workforce a 1% pay award… the same figure which the company’s French workforce received.

“Other players in the industry are also offering significant pay rises in Scotland, whereas Chivas Brothers are offering practically nothing, despite the workers having continued to boost the profits of the company during the pandemic.

“It’s a slap in the face to a dedicated workforce.

“We fully expect a mandate from the workforce, with industrial action likely to take place from the middle of May.”

It’s not right that Chivas workers in Scotland should be treated like second-class citizens.”

Keir Greenaway, GMB Scotland organiser

GMB Scotland organiser Keir Greenaway added: “Despite the many challenges that have faced the whisky industry over the past year, from Brexit to the US tariffs and through a global pandemic, the efforts of Chivas workers in Scotland have kept the profits rolling in for Pernod Ricard.

“These pay negotiations were an opportunity for the company to reward the workers for their substantial efforts.

“It’s not right that Chivas workers in Scotland should be treated like second-class citizens, taking real-terms cuts to their pay while their Pernod Ricard colleagues in France have rightly been awarded a pay rise.

“This is about standing up to corporate greed in the fight for proper value and that’s why we are now balloting our members for industrial action.”

‘Unprecedented times’

Chivas Brothers chairman and chief executive Jean-Christophe Coutures said: “We deeply value the hard work and commitment of our teams during this crisis, and we are proud that we have been able to navigate these unprecedented times while maintaining 100% of jobs and salaries.

“Like many others, the Covid-19 crisis has negatively impacted our business – and the wider Scotch whisky industry.

“We are the most affected business in Pernod Ricard and the export value of the Scotch whisky sector fell £1.1 billion last year, its lowest level since 2010.”

Chivas Brothers chairman and chief executive Jean-Christophe Coutures.

Mr Coutures added: “In order to protect our long-term resilience while the crisis is ongoing, we took the difficult decision to implement a salary freeze across the entire business for the past financial year, however, we have been in constructive discussions with our unions for many months to find alternative ways to reward our teams.

“We believe our proposals recognise their continued hard work and dedication. We are extremely disappointed that our latest offers, which have included guaranteed pay increases in 2021 and 2022, have been rejected.”

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