WORKERS at Diageo’s distilleries started their strike last night after last-minute pay talks broke down.

Unions criticised the company’s “insatiable corporate greed” for refusing to increase their pay offer above the 2.8% basic rise for workers across Scotland’s distilleries and bottling plants.

“Barring a last-ditch offer”, almost two-thirds of all Diageo workers will take part in a series of rolling strikes over 10 days, which started from 10pm last night, according to representatives of the GMB and Unite unions.

Union representatives claimed the strike action by their combined membership of more than 1500 people would “severely affect” Diageo’s bottling, maturation and distillery operations.

Diageo, which owns Johnnie Walker whisky, Smirnoff vodka and Tanqueray gin, said it has “strong contingency plans in place” to deal with the strikes, which would affect all of the firm’s sites across Scotland.

The drinks giant made £4.2 billion in pre-tax profits, with union representatives saying “performances have improved by every indicator” but the company has claimed it cannot afford to match last year’s 3.2% pay increase.

The GMB said increasing the offer to match the cost-of-living increase would be equivalent to the price of a tank and a half of the company’s Tanqueray gin, or just 4% of Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes’ annual pay.

A GMB spokesman said: “Diageo say they can’t afford to increase the pay offer, even though profits have increased, and wouldn’t even match the 3.2% increase last year, despite improvements in performance by every single indicator.

“It’s insatiable corporate greed and to claim that they can’t afford to improve their offer is just not credible.”

Unite regional industrial officer Bob MacGregor accused Diageo negotiators of wasting the opportunity to avoid industrial action, claiming they “deliberately chose to use this last opportunity ahead of strike action to waste time and indulge themselves in a charade”.

MacGregor added: “In the latest round of talks between Diageo and the joint trade unions today, absolutely zero progress was made.

“We are always willing to talk with the company but this must be on the basis of respecting and properly rewarding the workforce.”