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Chivas Brothers workers prepare to strike

Workers at Chivas Brothers sites across Scotland will move forward with strike action this month following a vote.

Chivas Regal blended Scotch whisky
Chivas Brothers produces Chivas Regal blended Scotch whisky

Chivas Brothers workers who are members of trade unions Unite and GMB are due to go on strike at a number of sites across Scotland at the end of May.

In December 2020, members of Scotland’s largest union, Unite, voted by 91% to refuse a pay freeze in a consultative ballot after a ‘breakdown in pay talks’.

Last month, Unite balloted its members who work at Chivas Brothers in Scotland for strike action. The ballot, which closed yesterday (10 May), saw 82% of members vote for industrial action on a 62% turnout.

Furthermore, GMB said 84.4% of its members had backed calls for industrial action, and 92.7% for action short of a strike.

The strike will affect the company’s Kilmalid bottling hall, Strathclyde grain distillery, The Glenlivet Distillery, and maturation sites in Speyside, Clydebank and Ayrshire.

Elaine Dougall, Unite regional coordinating officer, said: “This result comes after months of trying to negotiate a fair pay award for the workers but throughout this whole time the company has barely moved an inch.

“The offer, which is tantamount to a pay freeze, despite the workers having continued to boost the profits of the company during the pandemic, is disgraceful.”

Chivas Brothers, the Scotch whisky arm of French firm Pernod Ricard, employs about 1,600 workers in Scotland. In full-year 2020, Chivas Brothers’ organic sales declined by 11% due to the pandemic.

Unite said that other drinks firms have given larger pay awards, including Glenfiddich owner William Grant & Sons (2.3%) and The Macallan maker Edrington (2.2%).

GMB pointed to Pernod Ricard’s ‘promising’ third quarter financial results at the end of April, including sales of €1.96 billion (US$2.3bn) in the three months to 31 March 2021, with 10% organic growth expected for the rest of the year.

GMB Scotland organiser Keir Greenaway said Chivas workers “deserve much better than a real-terms pay cut”.

He stated: “It was a low-blow for workers to learn they would be the poor relations of the Pernod Ricard family, and the recent financial results from the parent company now clearly demonstrate that there is no excuse to value them so badly.

“You can’t build an economic recovery on pay cuts in Scotland’s highly lucrative whisky and spirits sector; there is no ‘levelling up’ or ‘fair work’ agenda here for workers in communities like West Dunbartonshire and Speyside.

“GMB members have sent a clear message that they are prepared to take industrial action to secure better value for their hard work and sacrifice over the last 14 months, and the ball is back in the employer’s court to return with an improved offer.”

Furthermore, Unite noted the recent four-month suspension of US tariffs on UK goods, including single malt Scotch.

Dougall added: “Unite is asking that Chivas Brothers use this [tariff] result as an opportunity to make an improved offer, or industrial action will take place in a matter of weeks just as the country is easing restrictions on access to pubs and restaurants.”

‘Fair’ pay increase

Chivas Brothers chairman and CEO Jean-Christophe Coutures said: “We are deeply disappointed that our union members have voted in favour of industrial action.

“We maintain that our proposal to our unions – which included guaranteed pay increases in 2021 and 2022 – is fair, and recognises the hard work of our teams whilst responsibly managing our business for the years ahead.

“Despite the result of this vote, we remain committed to seeking a resolution that focuses our collective efforts on achieving long-term business success, job security and growth.”

Chivas Brothers produces Scotch whisky brands such as  Ballantines, The Glenlivet, Royal Salute and Aberlour.

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