Whyte & Mackay to axe 100 jobs

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WHISKY firm Whyte & Mackay today said it is to cut up to 100 jobs to help it weather the economic storm.

Bosses at the distillers, which employs 574 people, said "a major review" of the organisation will be conducted, which will include redundancies.

As well as 85 jobs at risk in Scotland, a further 15 sales jobs outside Scotland may also be lost in the restructuring.

News of the cuts follows drinks giant Diageo's announcement that it wants to close its Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock and the Port Dundas distillery in Glasgow, with 900 workers at risk of losing their job.

Whyte & Mackay said it is in "formal consultation" with staff about the planned job cuts.

The firm said it wants to reduce the number of workers at all seven of its Scottish sites, including Invergordon distillery near Inverness, its Glasgow head office and at a bottling plant in Grangemouth – but none of the sites will be closed.

Whyte & Mackay chief executive John Beard said the redundancy plan is "a painful decision" for the company.

"It will come as no surprise to anybody that a combination of the worldwide economic situation and the punitive UK legislative climate means that only the fittest alcoholic drink companies will survive," he said.

"My priority over the coming days and weeks is to help and assist our staff.

"We are hopeful that this difficult decision will ensure Whyte & Mackay has a sustainable future going forward, leaving us in a strong position to grow when the UK and global economy improves."

Whyte & Mackay was founded in 1844 by James Whyte and Charles Mackay.

The Glasgow-based firm was bought in 2007 for 595 million by Indian businessman Vijay Mallya and posted pre-tax profits of 25.6 million for the 18 months to the end of March last year.

The company owns several brands, including The Dalmore, Isle of Jura, Mackinlays, John Barr, Cluny and Claymore, as well as its Whyte & Mackay blended whisky.

In the past week the company has had meetings with Scottish Government representatives about the planned job cuts, including the First Minister Alex Salmond.

Opposition parties, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Development International and Highland and Islands Enterprise have also been briefed about the proposal.

But Enterprise Minister Jim Mather said Whyte & Mackay was tackling a "difficult situation in a socially responsible manner".

He said: "I welcome the fact that it remains deeply committed to its Glasgow head office, and that it has strong prospects for the future, especially as regards long-term sales growth in new markets such as India.

"Clearly this is an anxious time for the staff affected. However in two meetings with us, the company has assured us that it is doing everything it can to avoid compulsory redundancies."

And the Scottish Government will continue giving the firm "help and support", he said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat chief whip Mike Rumbles said Whyte & Mackay's job cuts plan is "very bad news" and that "it shows that we are miles away from an economic recovery as far as people's jobs are concerned".

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: "Clearly further job losses in the whisky industry are to be regretted, however the company has managed to preserve all its plants in Scotland. This is a positive feature but the message from the industry is clear, the challenges in the current recession are real."

Harry Donaldson of GMB Scotland said news of the job cuts is "bitterly disappointing", and called for a "whisky summit" to be held to discuss the industry's problems.

"I think we need to involve the Scotch Whisky Association, the employers themselves and the politicians – along with the trade unions," he said.