The GMB and Unite unions claimed Diageo – owner of brands including Johnnie Walker, Bells, Smirnoff and Guinness – had targeted savings of £30M a year by closing both its ‘final salary’ pension scheme and ‘lifestyle’ scheme to new entrants.
Diageo’s final salary pension scheme was created in 1999, and is an amalgamation of pension schemes from Guinness and Grand Metropolitan, which merged to form the drinks giant. Diageo said it closed the scheme to new entrants in 2005, and its lifestyle pension plan was subsequently introduced.
GMB claimed 63% of its members voted in favour of strike action over the pensions row, and 70% voted for action short of strikes. Unite said 77% voted for strikes while 82% voted for action short of strikes.
Unite claimed Diageo wanted to change its pension plan to a career average scheme, which would be worth much less to its members.
“No-one takes industrial action lightly – especially with Christmas coming up – but Diageo is behaving like Scrooge,” Unite regional officer Pat McIlvogue said.
50 sites in Scotland
The industrial action may affect all of the distiller’s 50 sites in Scotland and other sites in Cheshire and Northern Ireland.
GMB said the vote was a clear message to Diageo that it needed to think again if it wanted to avoid strikes across Scotland.
“Diageo is happy to significantly increase executive pay in the wake of billions of pounds of profit but they won’t protect the pensions of the workforce who have contributed massively towards the success of the business,” said GMB Scotland organiser Louise Gilmour.
“If there is one company that can most certainly afford to sustain decent pension arrangements for its workers, then it’s Diageo. It’s a question of fairness, and Diageo can clearly go further to protect the pensions of their workers.”
‘Clearly disappointing’ and ‘premature’
Diageo said the vote for action was “clearly disappointing” and “premature”. The drinks firm claimed it had agreed an alternative pension scheme proposal with the unions recently. It said the unions agreed the proposal was “the best possible negotiated outcome, and a fundamentally improved proposal”.
The company said it would ensure its business continued normally as much as possible, if and when strike action was taken.
“Management at Diageo remain committed to finding a sustainable solution on pensions that helps to manage the long term needs of employees,” Diageo said. “As such, the company will seek to move back into discussions with unions and ACAS [the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service].”