Whisky workers seek Brexit job reassurance

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

Whisky workers are seeking answers from EU officials over the security of their jobs, after the UK quits the EU
Whisky workers are seeking answers from EU officials over the security of their jobs, after the UK quits the EU

Related tags Scotland United kingdom European union Scotch whisky association

Whisky workers are seeking “honest answers” from EU officials in Brussels today (March 22) over the security of their jobs once the UK quits the EU.

Members of GMB Scotland, the union for whisky and spirits workers, are meeting with EU commission representatives, members of European Parliament and trade experts in Brussels, over the future of the industry’s trading arrangements with the EU.

The visit follows a written plea from the union to the secretary of state for Scotland, David Mundell, calling for measures to protect the £5bn whisky industry and the 40,000 jobs it directly supports.

GMB Scotland organiser Louise Gilmour said the organisation’s efforts to secure protective measures for whisky from the UK government, amid Brexit uncertainty, have been met with silence.

“We need some honest answers,”​ said Gilmour. “If the UK government cannot provide our members with the reassurances they need for the future defence of their livelihoods, then we need to gauge how others see us – which may mean some hard truths from Europe on future trading arrangements.

‘We need honest answers’

“As a trade union focused on the creation and defence of decent jobs, what we are not prepared to entertain is the prospect of change being imposed on our whisky industry post-Brexit and to the detriment of employment conditions and investment.”

Gilmour accused the Scottish secretary and UK government of being “asleep on the job”​ when it came to the security of the whisky industry after Brexit.

“GMB will ask the tough questions for them ​[the government], because the Scottish economy simply cannot do without a thriving whisky industry and we cannot afford to wait on change to find us,”​ she added.

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) last month said the continuing growth of Scotch whisky would be a “litmus test” ​of the success of the UK’s exit from the EU.

“While Brexit creates challenges, there are also potential opportunities if the industry’s priorities are delivered,” ​it said.

Cost more than £1bn

Last year the SWA warned Brexit could cost the Scotch whisky industry more than £1bn in lost exports.

Producers would face bureaucratic barriers when trading with Europe, the organisation said, as well as relabelling costs of £3,000 for each product line they exported.

Meanwhile, Scottish food and drink exports grew 8% to £5.5bn last year,​ an increase of £421M from the previous year. Scotch whisky exports grew 4% to more than £4bn.

Scottish government rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “These figures show the importance of retaining access to the vital European markets, which are currently worth £2.3bn to the sector, and represent our largest export market.”

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