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Unite calls for Diageo to halt production in Scotland

Trade union Unite is urging Diageo to stop production at its bottling and distilling sites across Scotland amid concerns over the safety and stress levels of workers during the pandemic.

Diageo’s Cambus Cooperage, near Alloa in Scotland

Unite said it had written a letter to Diageo’s senior management team demanding the move following concerns over the safety of staff and “rising levels of stress and anxiety”.

“Diageo workers are demanding that the company halt production at its plants across Scotland due to the mountain of safety concerns being raised by the workforce,” said Bob MacGregor, Unite regional industrial officer.

“Unite fully understands that the food and drink sector are essential services but if the safety concerns can’t be addressed then production must stop. Safety must come first.”

The world’s largest spirits producer operates a huge number of sites across Scotland, including its Leven, Cameronbridge and Shieldhall plants, which currently remain open to provide essential services and goods.

Some of these facilities have up to 200 workers, Unite said, with hundreds of employees in “close proximity for up to eight hours a day”.

Unite’s workplace representatives at the Diageo sites have said that while social distancing measures are in place, there remains “ongoing safety concerns” including the communal use of canteens and toilets.

MacGregor added: “The reality is that hundreds of people are working beside each other for hours a day, and then travelling home often on public transport to their families. The workforce is asking Diageo to do the right thing and halt production.”

Stringent safety protocols

A Diageo spokesperson said: “We would never ask any employee to work in an environment that we believe is not safe for them to do so, nor would we operate any site unless it is responsible and appropriate to do so. We again met with Bob MacGregor from Unite today and will now ask him to share as a matter of urgency any and all examples where he believes our strict safety protocols, which go beyond government guidelines, are not being adhered to so if proven can be resolved immediately.

“We have stringent safety protocols in place across all sites, including heightened sanitation measures, restriction of movement to and from our sites, and all employees who can work from home are doing so.

“We have fundamentally changed the way we work across all sites and scaled back production in many areas. This includes stopping some activities altogether, reducing output rates and changing shift patterns to ensure all our strict social distancing measures are fully enforced in all areas of our sites.

“All employees have been clearly briefed on the protocols and we have actively engaged with our trade union partners to ask them to work with us to ensure they are fully enforced at all times.

“We are complying with the latest guidance set out by the UK and Scottish governments. The UK government has reaffirmed that food and beverage production and retail, including alcohol, are essential services and that the production and supply of alcohol to the public should continue, where appropriate safety protocols are in place. The health and wellbeing of our employees remains our number one priority.”

This is not the first time Johnnie Walker owner Diageo has faced disruption in Scotland. In September last year, planned strike action across a number of Diageo’s sites was resolved after the firm revised its pay offer.

More than 60 visitor centres at Scotch whisky distilleries have closed following government advice. The list includes all 12 of Diageo’s visitor centres across Scotland, including Talisker, Caol Ila, and Lagavulin.

The coronavirus outbreak is also expected to drag Diageo’s full-year 2020 profits down by up to £200 million (US$260m).

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