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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Action on pay

by New Worker correspondent

SOME OF Scotland’s most vital key workers are balloting for strike action after pay talks broke down when bosses in one company attempted to impose an effective pay freeze whilst other companies in the same industry were offered modest, but actual, pay increases.

Workers at Chivas Brothers, which is owned by French company Pernod Ricard, are angry that the distiller of Scotch whisky is refusing them a pay rise this year. In December Unite members voted by 91 per cent to reject the pay offer in a consultative ballot, since then talks have made no progress.

The union notes that Chivas Brothers’ last posted accounts at Companies House for late 2019 show a £486 million profit after tax, and that rivals William Grants and Edrington both offered rises of 2.3 and 2.2 per cent respectively and that the recent suspension of US tariffs on UK goods including single malt whiskies will enhance the company’s profits.

Chivas employs about 1,600 workers up and down Scotland, including at Kilmalid bottling hall, Strathclyde Grain Distillery, the Glenlivet Distillery, and maturation sites in Speyside, Clydebank and Ayrshire, where it produces its own brand and others such as Ballantine’s, Royal Salute and Aberlour.

Speaking for Unite, Elaine Dougall said: “Unite’s members at Chivas Brothers have reached the end of the line following months of discussions which have barely moved us forward an inch. It would take the company around £300,000 to award the workforce a one per cent pay award, incidentally the same figure which the company’s French workforce received.”

This was “a slap in the face to a dedicated workforce which is why we are holding an industrial action ballot. We fully expect a mandate from the workforce with industrial action likely to take place from the middle of May unless the company get back to properly valuing their workforce.”

Rival union GMB is taking the same steps. Organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Despite the many challenges that have faced the whisky industry over the past year, from Brexit to the US tariffs and through a global pandemic, the efforts of Chivas workers in Scotland have kept the profits rolling in for Pernod Ricard.

“These pay negotiations were an opportunity for the company to reward the workers for their substantial efforts with a pay offer that reflects the value of their contribution to the success of the business.

“It’s not right that Chivas workers in Scotland should be treated like second-class citizens, taking real-terms cuts to their pay while their Pernod Ricard colleagues in France have rightly been awarded a pay rise.”

crocodile tears

Chivas Brothers chair and CEO Jean-Christophe Coutures told the Press Association that whisky was the sector of Pernod worst affected by the pandemic, claiming that the export value of the Scotch whisky sector fell £1.1 billion last year, its lowest level since 2010. He wiped away some crocodile tears to say: “We are extremely disappointed that our latest offers – which have included guaranteed pay increases in 2021 and 2022 – have been rejected.”

Meanwhile some 300 workers are actively taking action to resist “fire and rehire” in Banbury, Oxfordshire, where upmarket Dutch coffee manufacturer Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) faces a continuous overtime ban from May Day that could lead to full-scale strike action in June if management do not abandon their plans.

strike

Some 87 per cent of Unite members at the plant voted to strike over the decision by JDE to issue notice of dismissal and engagement for 291 employees.

Unite national officer for the food industry Joe Clarke warned: “The overtime ban will lead to disruption to the smooth supply of the company’s top coffee products. Already sections of the Banbury plant rely on overtime to keep production running to schedule.”

He deplored the fact that: “Recent managerial actions have soured what were harmonious employment relations for half a century. We have already made public our concerns about what we call ‘a simmering managerial toxic culture’ at the Ruscote Avenue site.”

As with Chivas, workers’ anger has also been heightened by recent financial results that reported “a record In-Home organic growth of 9.1 per cent in 2020” due to people drinking more at home. In particular, according to Clarke: “During the 14 months of the pandemic, our members have worked flat-out to meet the estimated 40 per cent increase in coffee drinking by UK consumers – and Unite is not prepared to see this loyalty and hard work being repaid by pay cuts, and inferior terms and conditions.

“Jacobs Douwe Egberts is a highly-profitable multinational as the recent financial results demonstrate and it needs to reconsider its ‘fire and rehire’ plans, otherwise it will face severe reputational damage and cause investors to be worried about its share price.”

The Banbury plant has also seen drastic reductions to its research and development (R&D) section. In January the Banbury Guardian said that R&D used to employ 150 staff but was now down to 100 through a process of natural wastage, and this was before a new round of redundancy that would reduce staff levels to only 40.

share prices

Workers told the paper: “In the middle of a pandemic which JDE has profited from, they are more interested in increasing their share prices than looking after the people in R&D who helped keep the factory running round-the-clock when school closures, quarantine and shielding forced many of the factory’s workforce to stay at home.” They claim that they were responsible for developing Nespresso compatible L’Or aluminium capsules over many years, which is now a €1bn a year business on its own. The reward was redundancy.

JDE Management says: “These proposals are needed because the external landscape has changed significantly but more fundamentally our cost base is not competitive. Making these changes now will put us in a strong position to grow in the future.” It is suspected that the lost jobs will reappear in Malaysia.

Also in the food industry, supermarket chain Asda have been accused of planning to cut 1,200 jobs across 341 stores by abandoning instore fresh baking – replacing the fresh-baked goods with deliveries from centralised bakeries, to be defrosted and finished off in their supermarkets.

Roger Jenkins, a GMB National Officer, said: “Asda’s plans to scrap baking their products from scratch on site and replace them with part-baked products from mass producers is not good for the consumer.

“GMB calls on Asda to retain these valuable skilled employees and continue to offer the customer truly fresh produce baked by professional bakers.”

He was backed up by Chris Young from the Real Bread Campaign, who said: “This is such disappointing news. The company has confirmed a rising demand for a greater diversity of real bread but rather than using this as an opportunity to increase the number and skill levels of jobs for people in the local communities their stores serve, they seem poised to axe perhaps more than a thousand. I hope the company will also be ditching the word ‘bakery’ and any ‘freshly baked’ types claims from its stores accordingly.”

The cat was let out of the bag however by Brian Clarke, founder of European Food Consultants, who said this was a cost cutting exercise and admitted that the move will bring about “significant cost savings in direct production and labour costs, energy saving and benefits in the utilisation of floor space for sales of higher value consumer goods. Sadly, the effect on the workforce will be felt.”

Being formerly employed in a company supplying supermarkets with what they call freshly baked goods, he asserted that the use of a centralised supply bakery will improve quality and consistency of product. He noted that this is already standard practice in other chains except for Morrisons, which means the concept of fresh baking is something of a fraud.

No doubt this decision will see a boom in business for Sensory Decisions, a company which manufactures such useless products as the “Bread Smell – Fresh Bread Fragrance” room spray and a “new car smell” equivalent. Surely there can be a better use for graduates in chemistry than in devising such things.