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Diageo faces potential strike over pay

Trade union Unite has threatened strike action against Diageo after the firm planned to reduce night shifts for staff at its Leven plant in Scotland.

Talisker owner Diageo is the world’s biggest Scotch whisky distiller

According to Unite, Diageo will change the current shift pattern for engineers at it Leven plant in Fife, which will in effect bring other workers down to a new starter rate.

The issue has ‘been ongoing for a considerable time’ with the concern first raised in 2019, Unite said, but Diageo has ‘dragged their heels’ over the matter.

The matter would affect 10 members, who form the weekend engineering support for Diageo’s Leven bottling plant.

Unite regional officer Bob Macgregor told The Spirits Business that the agreement was that workers would be paid a 17% shift premium for the weekend, regardless of their shift. However, in 2019, Diageo only gave workers an 11% shift premium, Macgregor explained.

Macgregor said four of the workers were put on a lower shift premium, meaning they were doing the same job as others at a different rate of pay.

A Diageo spokesperson said in a statement: “The claims in Unite’s press release are incorrect. We are not introducing a lower pay rate for new starters.

“We are reducing the number of night shifts required to be worked by some weekend shift engineers at Leven and are following the union’s agreed process to implement the changes to shift premiums as a result.

“We are committed to seeking resolution to this dispute and are proud of the pay and benefits packages we provide to our people.”

The workers have already been balloted for continuous strike action if the matter isn’t resolved, Macgregor said, which could cause the plant to shut down as it wouldn’t be able to function without the weekend staff.

Unite is due to meet with Diageo next Friday (4 November) for negotiations regarding the dispute. “We’d settle for them addressing the lower rate. They should discuss it and see what the company needs and come to some sort of arrangement, but they haven’t done that,” Macgregor added.

‘Totally unacceptable’

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said it was “totally unacceptable” for Diageo to “try to cut our members pay by stealth” without consulting the unions.

She also highlighted that Diageo’s reported operating profit increased by 18.2% to £4.4 billion this year, equal to a profit of £156,377 per employee. The firm’s organic profit climbed by 26.3%.

Macgregor called the move “morally disgusting”, particularly as it comes amid the cost-of-living crisis.

He added: “This behaviour by extremely profitable companies has to stop. Unite will always stand with our members to protect pay, terms and conditions.”

This is not the first time Diageo has faced potential disruption in Scotland.

In March 2020, Unite urged 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.

In September 2019, planned strike action across a number of Diageo’s sites was resolved after the firm revised its pay offer.

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