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Diageo defends production after trade union calls for a halt

Diageo has defended safety measures at its production plants after one of the UK’s largest trade unions called it to halt production at its Scottish drinks plants, saying it had “fundamanetally changed” the way it works across all sites and scaled back production in the wake of Covid-19.

In a statement on Friday, Unite, the union that represents some Diageo workers, wrote to the company’s  senior management asking it to halt production at its plants across Scotland.

Diageo is understood to still be operating its Leven, Cameron Bridge and Sheildhall plants, in order to provide good and essential service, and is adhering to government social distancing measures.

However Unite workplace representatives said ongoing safety concerns remained, particularly the communal use of workplace canteens and toilets, when up to 200 workers were based at some plants. They also reported “rising levels of stress and anxiety with hundreds of workers being in close proximity to each other for up to eight hours a day”.

Unite regional industrial officer Bob MacGregor said that Diageo’s workers were demanding that the company halts production at its plants across Scotland, claminng a “mountain of safety concerns” raised by the workforce.

“Unite fully understands that the food and drink sectors are essential services but if the safety concerns can’t be addressed then production must stop. Safety must come first. The reality is that hundreds of people are working beside each other for hours a day, and then travelling home often on public transport to their families. The workforce are asking Diageo to do the right thing and halt production.”

Responding to the drinks business’s enquiry today, a Diageo spokesman said they would never ask any employee to work in an environment that they believe was not safe for them to do so, “nor would we operate any site unless it is responsible and appropriate to do so.”

“On Friday, we again met with Bob Macgregor from Unite and we have asked him to share as a matter of urgency any and all examples where he believes our strict safety protocols, which go beyond government guidelines, are not being adhered to so if proven can be resolved immediately,” she said.

“We have stringent safety protocols in place across all sites, including heightened sanitation measures, restriction of movement to and from our sites, and all employees who can work from home are doing so. We have fundamentally changed the way we work across all sites and scaled back production in many areas. This includes stopping some activities altogether, reducing output rates and changing shift patterns to ensure all our strict social distancing measures are fully enforced in all areas of our sites. All employees have been clearly briefed on the protocols and we have actively engaged with our trade union partners to ask them to work with us to ensure they are fully enforced at all times.

“We are complying with the latest guidance set out by the UK and Scottish Governments. The UK Government has reaffirmed that food and beverage production and retail, including alcohol, are essential services and that the production and supply of alcohol to the public should continue, where appropriate safety protocols are in place. The health and well-being of our employees remains our number one priority.”

Last week the company announced it would donate enough grain neutral spirit to make more than 8 million 250ml bottles of hand sanitiser – over two million litres of 96% grain neutral spirit –  to frontline healthcare staff around the world. Around 500,000 litres of spirit made will be available to staff in the NHS and in healthcare in the Republic of Ireland, it said.  Countries where sanitizer will be produced and donated include Italy, the US, Australia, India, Brazil and Kenya.

It has clarified that is is not producing sanitizer itself, but donating the alcohol to existing manufacturers on the condition that it gets to the healthcare frontline.

“We’ve been working with government and producers to make that happen as quickly as possible,” a spokesman said.

Back in February, Diageo issued a profit warning, saying that up to £200 million could be wiped off its profits as a result of the outbreak of Covid-19 (coronavirus) in China, before the pandemic took hold across the world.


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