WORKERS at “Scrooge” drinks giant Diageo are poised to strike in the run-up to Christmas in a row over pensions cuts.

Unions threatened industrial action at 15 Scottish sites last night due to mounting anger about the company’s plans to save £30 million a year from its pensions programme, including the end of its final-salary scheme and a bar on new entrants to the lifestyle plan.

The changes come after the global firm announced £2.8 billion profits last year and GMB members backed walkouts from Scottish sites by 63 per cent and other forms of industrial action by almost 70 per cent.

Meanwhile, Unite members across Diageo’s UK sites voted 82 per cent in favour of industrial action short of a strike, and 77 per cent in favour of strike action.

The plans could disrupt production and distribution of key spirit brands as the festive season approaches, hitting the company’s profits in shops and bars.

Diageo’s product line includes Smirnoff vodka, Gordon’s gin, Captain Morgan rum and Johnnie Walker, Caol Ila, Talisker, Lagavulin, J&B and Bell’s whiskies.

Sites in Scotland that could be affected by the dispute include its bottling plant in Leven, Fife; Moray House Distillery in Elgin; offices in Edinburgh and a supply centre in Glasgow.

Unite regional officer Pat McIlvogue said: “No-one takes industrial action lightly, especially with Christmas coming up, but Diageo is behaving like Scrooge.

“This is a company that is rolling in cash. Diageo’s chief executive Ivan Menezes received £3.8m in total payments from the company in 2015, including £424,000 in pension contributions. Its last reported profits were nearly £3bn. The company recently increased its dividend to shareholders by five per cent.

“This is corporate avarice on a scale that even Charles Dickens couldn’t imagine. But this isn’t the Victorian era, and our members will stand together in the face of this corporate greed. We will support them to make sure they get fairness and their promised pension rewards.”

GMB Scotland organiser Louise Gilmour added: “The company needs to think again if it wants to avoid damaging strikes across Scotland.

“Diageo is happy to significantly increase executive pay in the wake of billions of pounds of profit but they won’t protect the pensions of the workforce who have contributed massively towards the success of the business.

“It’s another example of the obscene disparity between executive pay and the ordinary worker and if there is one company that can most certainly afford to sustain decent pension arrangements for its workers then it’s Diageo.

“It’s a question of fairness, and Diageo can clearly go further to protect the pensions of their workers.”

Set up in 1999, the Diageo Pension Scheme (DPS) cost the company £43m in contributions in 2014, with these costs forecast to rise annually.

Last night a spokesperson said the ballot on industrial action was “premature” while discussions on alternative proposals were ongoing, adding: “The company and employees are in a consultative process and have not yet moved into consultation on the alternative proposal. It is also far from the positive industrial relations of past decades that the company has had with its employees and which has helped build the reputation our supply business has today.

“If and when strike action is taken, the company will focus on ensuring that our business continues as usual as far as possible. Strong plans are in place for this while we seek to move back into dialogue on the DPS.

“Management at Diageo remain committed to finding a sustainable solution on pensions that helps to manage the long-term needs of employees in a competitive pension with the growing risk and cost to the company of the DPS scheme. As such the company will seek to move back into discussions with unions and Acas.”