Whisky workers suspend strikes to consider pay offer

Workers in the whisky industry have suspended strike action next week while a pay offer is considered.

Chivas Brothers staff in the Kilmalid, Dalmuir, Beith, Strathclyde Grain and Strathisla distilleries, represented by Unite the union, voted to strike by 91.2%, as the company achieved best-in-a-decade sales.

Of the 1,500 workers employed by Chivas Brothers, around a third are members of Unite and plans to strike were announced last week, and colleagues with GMB Scotland have also put walkouts on hold.

A rolling programme of 24-hour stoppages across various Chivas Brothers facilities, including a warehouse in Dumbuck, West Dunbartonshire, between December 11 and 14 had been planned.

All industrial action is suspended until the ballot process on the new pay offer is complete.

Chivas Brothers produces whisky including Chivas Regal, Aberlour, Ballantine’s, Royal Salute and The Glenlivet.

Strikes had been expected across 21 sites, and an overtime ban and short-notice shifts bans were also mooted.

Unite members previously rejected a 6.4% pay offer by 97%. Inflation stood at 11.3% when the workers’ pay increase should have been implemented.

Chivas Brothers made a profit after tax of £168.5 million in 2022, which was described by Unite general secretary Sharon Graham as “eye-watering profits”.

In August, the company, owned by French firm Pernod Ricard, further announced that its July 2022–June 2023 full-year net sales were up 17%, taking total sales to a 10-year high.

GMB Scotland, which also planned to take industrial action, had warned it could disrupt orders to retailers, hotels and public houses over the holidays.

Unite industrial officer Andy Brown said: “Unite has been in intense negotiations with Chivas Brothers since we announced our rolling programme of strike action.

“Following the latest round of talks we have agreed to put a new pay offer to our 500-strong Chivas Brothers membership for consideration.

“Unite has taken the decision to suspend all forthcoming industrial action until our membership has had the opportunity to vote on the merits of this new offer.”

A spokesman for GMB Scotland said: “GMB Scotland members were due to strike at 21 Chivas sites but have suspended action to allow a ballot on the revised offer.”

David Hume, GMB Scotland organiser in the drinks industry, said: “It is regrettable that it took the threat of a strike to prompt this revised offer but we have now suspended the planned industrial action to allow our members to vote on the terms.”

A Chivas Brothers spokesman said: “While the results of the official ballot are still pending, we are pleased that constructive talks have enabled us to re-engage with the unions on our original proposal and reach a mutually-agreeable position that avoids unnecessary strike action.

“Our offer reflects our ongoing commitment to sharing our success throughout the company, while recognising the normalising business and economic environment for the year ahead.

“Reaching this agreement means we can continue to focus on our main business objective, which is the supply of our world-renowned whiskies to consumers all over the world.”