Workers at Diageo are to be balloted for industrial action over changes to the drinks giant’s final salary pension scheme.
Unite the union last night accused the firm of a “shameful example of corporate greed” by looking to cut worker pensions at a time when the company is making massive profits, and confirmed that members at sites in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Runcorn will be asked to vote on possible strike action.
Diageo has hit back in the dispute, however, describing the news as “clearly disappointing” and “premature”.
Unite say the firm is looking to change The Diageo Pensions Scheme into a career average scheme worth much less to members and close a separate scheme – the Diageo Lifestyle Plan – to new employees, replacing it with a new defined contributions pension which they claim will bring much worse returns.
Noting that the company’s last reported profits were £2.8 billion, Unite regional officer Pat McIlvogue said: “Diageo is a company that is making incredible profits from the hard work of our members. But instead of sharing the rewards of success, it has decided to slap their workers in the face.
“We entered into negotiations with the company in good faith.
“We agreed to work with the conciliation service ACAS and put forward a proposal that would help protect our members’ pensions, but would still save the company money.
“The company has rejected this, and we have no option now but to ballot our members on industrial action.”
Last week, some 80% of Unite members rejected Diageo’s latest proposed changes to pensions provisions.
Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty added: “To attack our members’ pensions at this time is a shameful example of corporate greed.”
A Diageo spokesperson said the company had been involved in a consultative review of the its UK final salary pension scheme since February – a process that has involved detailed discussions on the future of the scheme.
“More recently the company and union representatives concluded discussions at ACAS which resulted in an alternative and significantly improved proposal, one that is generous and competitive in the context of the pensions’ environment in the UK,” the firm added.
“The unions have subsequently said that their members are not supportive of the alternative proposal, despite the unions themselves confirming that this second proposal was the best possible negotiated outcome.
“Following the rejection of the alternative proposal the unions have now chosen to ballot their members for industrial action.
“This is clearly disappointing, not in accordance with the positive industrial relations Diageo has had with its employees and is premature, since the company has not moved into formal consultation on the alternative proposal with its employees.
“Management at Diageo remain committed to finding a sustainable solution on pensions that manages the growing risk and cost for the company with the long term needs of employees in a competitive pension.”
It is understood that current pensioners and deferred members of the DPS would not be affected by any potential change.