Angry workers at whisky giant Chivas Brothers are considering taking industrial action over a pay freeze imposed by its French parent, Pernod Ricard.
Employees of Chivas, which has distilleries in Moray and the Highlands, and makes Scotch brands including Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet, were balloted after talks with management broke down.
Members of the GMB voted by a majority of 92% in support of industrial action in protest against what the union described as a “real terms pay cut”. Among membership of Unite the Union, 91% rejected the salary freeze.
Chivas chairman and chief executive Jean-Christope Coutures said yesterday the company believed it had offered pay terms “appropriate in the current climate”.
According to the GMB, Pernod Ricard workers in France have had a pay rise and the union said workers in Scotland, where Chivas employs 1,600 people “should not be forgotten”.
GMB Scotland organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Our members have kept the wheels of production turning for Chivas throughout this pandemic, keeping the profits up and generating eye-watering bonuses for Pernod Ricard’s executives.
“However, instead of recognising their massive contribution to the sustainability of the business in these unprecedented times, their reward is an offer of a Pernod pay freeze that will make them poorer in 2021, and that’s just wrong.”
He added: “Workers in Scotland shouldn’t be forgotten. The cost of protecting their pay with an offer that matches the cost of living would amount to little more than a rounding error in the company accounts. The anger of our members is reflected in this ballot result, and that’s why we are urging Chivas to listen to their loyal workers and bring forward an improved offer.”
Unite regional co-ordinating officer Elaine Dougall said: “Unite’s members at Chivas Brothers are absolutely furious at the pay freeze being offered by the company and have demonstrated this through rejecting it by 91%.
“Other players in the industry are offering significant pay rises, whereas Chivas Brothers workers who have continued to work throughout the Covid pandemic and continued to boost the profits of the company are being offered nothing. It’s completely unacceptable.
“Unite will now move towards an industrial action ballot. We will continue to press hard for a fair pay offer, but all options are now on the table. Chivas Brothers have an opportunity to do the right thing or they will face an escalating dispute unnecessarily created by their arrogance.”
Mr Coutures said: “We deeply value the hard work and commitment of our teams during this crisis, and we are proud we have been able to navigate these unprecedented times, while maintaining 100% of jobs and salaries.
“We have maintained an open dialogue with union representatives throughout this process and have found ways to reward our teams that we believe are appropriate in the current climate, and allow us to responsibly manage our business for the year ahead.”
In a later “updated statement”, Mr Coutures added: “Like many others, the Covid-19 crisis has negatively affected our business and the wider Scotch whisky industry.
“The pandemic has led to record low Scotch whisky sales… and increased costs to make all of our sites Covid-secure.
“We are very optimistic about the future of our business, but in order to protect our long-term resilience while the crisis is ongoing, we took the necessary decision to implement a salary freeze across the entire business for the past financial year, while continuing to invest in our working environments, conditions and people – including our intention to create 75 additional permanent roles by June 2021.
“We entered into discussions with unions several months ago to seek alternative means to reward our teams, including an increase to this year’s profit-related share plan and a guaranteed pay increase in 2021.
“Despite the rejection of this offer, we have nevertheless honoured our commitment to enhance the share scheme, in recognition of the hard work and dedication of our teams during this most extraordinary year.”
Chivas made pre-tax profits of £539million in 2019, an increase of 22% on the previous year.