Pressure on whisky firms to halt ‘non-essential’ production

Workers have expressed concern to the GMB Union that they're putting their families at risk.

By Louise Hosie and Brandon Cook

Pressure is increasing on Scotland’s whisky industry to partly halt production after claims by workers that lives are being put at risk.

Rising stress levels, a lack of appropriate safety measures and fears of passing coronavirus on to their loved ones were among the concerns highlighted to one union by employees.

The economy secretary Fiona Hylsop is now urging companies to consider whether distilling is really necessary.

One worker, who wished to remain anonymous, shared his experience with STV News.

“There’s very strong belief that the work we’re currently doing is not essential,” he said.

“The whisky that we’re producing now isn’t for the current market. It matures for 12 years, it’s never going to be on a shelf until 2032.

“It certainly isn’t a nice feeling to be leaving your family and going into work, knowing that actually you’re just introducing risk to your house.

“We’re making our communities less safe by doing this job. It’s a risk that’s totally unnecessary.”

A survey by the GMB union of members working in the industry received more than 200 responses.

In some accounts, people said they feared for their safety.

“I just feel we are non-essential but are being treated as collateral damage,” said one.

Another said: “There’s no way of checking our temperature on arrival. People’s stress levels are increasing by the day.”

“I feel my life is at risk,” said a third.

The union is calling for production to be halted.

GMB Scotland organiser Keir Greenaway said: “What we hear from the industry over and over again is that their workers’ health and safety comes first.

“It’s about time they matched these words with deeds and ceased production across the sector.”

Hyslop said: “It’s questionable whether whisky distilling or whisky that is laid down for three years before it’s needed it really essential.

“I think bottling of domestic market alcohol is a different matter, and I would enourage the workforce and trade unions and employers to discuss what is safe if we want to have that production taking place.”

A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said: “The safety of industry staff is always our primary concern.

“Those Scotch Whisky companies which continue to operate are doing so only with significantly scaled-back operations and in rigorous compliance with Scottish Government guidance.

“For companies, large and small, which continue to operate, this is not about profit, but about ensuring businesses can be in a position to contribute to Scotland’s economic recovery.”

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