No more free Beer

It is the end of the free-beer era for Canadian retirees of a major brewery.

Labatt announced it is cutting off the allotment of free beer for its former employees by 2019.

The perk has been part of the company’s retirement package for more than half a century.

Labatt was founded in Canada but was sold in 1995, and is now owned by Belgium-based beer powerhouse Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported that Labatt was phasing out the retirement benefit.

In a letter sent to employees 28 October, the company cited the rising costs of maintaining the full benefits package, including its healthcare coverage, as the reason for the cut.

James Holden worked as a filtration and brewing manager for Labatt for over a decade, and started in the industry in 1973.

He retired in 2013, and said the move is part of a trend he has seen the industry go through over the last couple of decades.

The brewing industry has changed as global companies came in and snapped up formerly Canadian-owned companies like Labatt, Mr Holden said

“It was a friendly industry but as soon as the accountants and the corporations got a hold of it, it became cold. Ruthless is a way to put it,” he told the BBC.

“The difference between night and day.”

Labatt spokesman Charlie Angelakos said in a statement that the decision to end the benefit was taken “reluctantly” and came after internal research showed other companies no longer offered free product to retirees.

The benefit will be phased out and will officially end January 2019.

In 2009, another brewer, Molson Coors, decided to phase out its annual complimentary beer allotment over five years for its 2,400 retirees across the country.

At the time, some retirees protested outside the Molson brewery in St. John’s, Newfoundland and demanded a meeting with the the company’s CEO.

It was reported that the free beer perk cost Molson Coors CA$1m ($740,400/£600,000) a year.

A union representative told the London Free Press that the local had filed a grievance with Labatt over the decision to end the benefit.

“I’m really, really disappointed they would try to save money on the backs of retirees,” union representative Jeff Robinson told the newspaper. He said retirees, who would share the beer with neighbours and friends, often felt like ambassadors for the company.

In London, former employees get eight cases of beer annually. In Edmonton, current employees and retirees received an annual gift card from the brewery that allows them to purchase up to 52 cases of 12 beers.

There, local union president Jim Stirr told the CBC that he felt the company is “nickel-and-diming our retirees that put in a lot of work for many, many years.”

“In the cost of doing business, it’s such a small, small thing.”

Labatt has about 3,000 Canadian employees across the country.

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