Beer shortage for Christmas due to strikes and alcohol duty

Estimated read time 5 min read

Those looking forward to Christmas and the World Cup may be limited in their choice of tipple this year as strikes from drivers and brewers could lead to mass beer shortages. Thousands of pubs across London and the South East of England are in danger of running out of their beer supplies amid a strike for delivery drivers of GXO, which supplies about 40 percent of the UK’s pubs. Meanwhile it was announced today that a strike by GMB Union of its near-600 members at Best Food Logistics will cut off supplies to a number of fast food outlets and dining firms after a huge majority of staff rejected a proposed pay rise, while 250 workers at various big-name breweries refuse to work this week. This comes as new chancellor Jeremy Hunt yesterday announced plans to reverse a planned freeze in the rate of alcohol duty, pushing up pint prices and putting further pressure on the hospitality industry.

Drivers at GXO are set to go on strike between October 31 and November 4 in a dispute over their pay, as well as commencing a ban on overtime from October 24. The company delivers to around 4,500 pubs, clubs and bars in London and the South East, including large brewers like Heineken and Shepherd Neame.

Sharon Graham, general secretary for Unite, who are organising the GXO strike, accused the company of being able to “well afford” a pay rise that “reflects rising living costs”. The pay rise offered, the union claims, was 5 percent – although GXO has insisted that it was “significantly above” this amount.

The company said the proposal on the table represented an average 9.2 percent pay increase and there was no impact on sick pay.

Ms Graham added: “The current offer it has put forward goes nowhere near that reasonable demand,” and demanded that GXO come back with “a much-improved deal”.

However, GXO shot back, accusing Unite’s statement as being misleading, arguing instead that its offer was “highly competitive”.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We are extremely disappointed that the union has rejected our proposal, which is highly competitive and follows an above-inflation annual pay raise last year. We are in constant contact with our customers and should a strike go ahead, we have business continuity plans in place to ensure they are adequately stocked and minimise impact on consumers”.

Issues for pubs and hospitality are further compounded by GMB union members taking strike action this week, as 250 employees at Budweiser, Stella Artois, Becks, Boddingtons and Export Pale Ale refuse to work. The GMB Union has said workers at the factory in Samlesbury, near Preston, will be off until 7am on Saturday, October 22.

Strike action was prompted when the workers were offered only a £250 pay rise for 2023.

GMB organiser Stephen Boden said: “We don’t believe there is any real desire from Budweiser to resolve this dispute. The work force is losing confidence in the management team.”

Mr Boden added that while this risks a beer drought at Christmas, it’s “not too late for management to listen”.

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A spokesperson from Budweiser Brewing Group responded: “Budweiser Brewing Group has a positive and long-standing relationship with the GMB, however despite open negotiations, the GMB have confirmed continued industrial action at our Samlesbury brewery. We are disappointed that the ACAS conciliation process has not been successful, and continue to work towards a solution.”

The lack of sufficient pay increases for workers prompting strikes that will ravage the pub industry comes after it was revealed yesterday that Jeremy Hunt will be reversing a planned freeze in the rate of alcohol duty.

The decision, announced as Mr Hunt scrapped almost all of the economic measures Liz Truss’ government had revealed last month, undoes a move by former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng to freeze the duty from February next year.

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Alcohol duty usually rises with the Retail Price Index (RPI) of inflation, with the government claiming at the time that freeze on the planned rise would save customers 7p on a pint of beer, 4p on a pint of cider, 38p on a bottle of wine and £1.35 on a bottle of spirits. However the government now argues that scrapping this policy will save them £600m a year.

Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Emma McClarkin, described Mr Hunt’s move as a “huge blow to brewers and pubs”.

She added that brewers and pubs “desperately need any relief we can get, to help to keep a lid on spiralling costs and keep the price of pint affordable for pub goers this winter. The cost of doing business is completely out of control for pubs and brewers and the failure to act today to reduce pressures on businesses will hit them extremely hard.”

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