Union accuses Tories of "gross betrayal" as 100 Scots drinks jobs face Brexit axe

Tories blamed for uncertainty and insecurity now facing Scotland’s drink industry as Brexit effect hits Diageo

THE GMB UNION in Scotland has accused the Tories of a “gross betrayal” after drinks company Diageo announced its plans to cut more than 100 jobs in its Scottish operations because of pressures and uncertainties around the UK Government’s Brexit plans.

Seventy redundancies were announced for Diageo’s Leven plant in Fife and a further 35 redundancies at its Shieldhall site, near Glasgow yesterday (Thursday 20 April), leading union organisers and workers to point to the UK Government as the culprit.

The company, which owns the brands Baileys and Guiness, confirmed that its white spirits production would move to its plants in Italy and the US.

News of the job losses follows calls by unions and the Scottish Government warning the UK Government’s Scottish Secretary David Mundell that special protection was needed to safeguard Scotland’s drinks sector which would be especially vulnerable to the trade uncertainty surrounding Brexit.

The losses are despite Scottish gin seeing a boom in growth over the past seven years from £774m profit a year in 2010 to about £1.2bn today.

“This is a gross betrayal of Scottish workers who have contributed significantly to the remarkable success of Diageo and to the massive economic dividend our economy receives from whisky and white spirits manufacturing.” Louise Gilmour

Louise Gilmour, GMB Scotland Organiser, said: “We warned David Mundell and the UK government about the possible impact of Brexit on the future of jobs across our drinks manufacturing sector and about the need for protective measures to safeguard an industry worth billions to the Scottish and UK economies.

“Instead of listening to the real concerns of working people and acting on them, the Tories are off on the election trail asking voters to back them over Brexit but the harsh realities of the decision to withdraw from the EU are already taking hold.

“This is a gross betrayal of Scottish workers who have contributed significantly to the remarkable success of Diageo and to the massive economic dividend our economy receives from whisky and white spirits manufacturing.”

The SNP were also quick to point out that the UK Government and the Tories in Scotland had been warned about the vulnerability of the Scottish drinks industry. They suggested it proved that the Tories were incapable to protecting Scotland’s economy from the decision to leave the EU and had no plan for the safeguarding of jobs.

“The Tories are off on the election trail asking voters to back them over Brexit but the harsh realities of the decision to withdraw from the EU are already taking hold.” Louise Gilmour

Commenting, SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth, who represents Leven, said: “The suggestion by the GMB union that it had warned David Mundell over the need to take action to protect Scotland’s drinks manufacturers against Brexit long before this announcement is yet another sign that he is happy to support the Tories’ Brexit plans no matter the damage they will inflict on our communities and economy.

“It is clear that the Tories think they can do what they want to Scotland and get away with it – but people will not stand for their reckless gambling with Scottish jobs. The economic impact of the Tory hard Brexit is set to be severe, and the people of Scotland must be given a choice on whether they wish to take the country down a different path.”

A UK Government spokesman, on behalf of David Mundell, said: "We have been in contact with Diageo and understand the company has begun a consultation with staff about proposed operational changes that are not driven by the UK's decision to leave the EU. The UK Government continues to support the Scottish economy and key sectors such as the drinks industry."

Representatives from the GMB will meet senior executives of Diageo next week to confirm the period of time when redundancies will take affect but are unaware of anyway to stop the job losses.

A Diageo spokesperson confirmed about 100 jobs will be affected and that it will do everything to mitigate the impact on its staff: “We are committed to our three spirits bottling sites in Europe – two in Scotland and one in Italy. The outcomes of this review will ensure we have the flexibility to respond to increased competition and external volatility, alongside testing and building the capability we need across our global supply chain to grow our brands.”

Picture courtesy of Marion Walker

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