HUNDREDS of jobs at Grangemouth are feared to be at risk after reports the petrochemical plant could be shut down.
Ineos, which also runs Scotland’s only oil refinery in the Stirlingshire town, is said to be considering closing its petrochemical plant due to rising costs and the decline in North Sea gas, the key raw material needed for processing.
Company chairman Jim Ratcliffe declared that the Scottish plant was “at a crossroads”.
The firm confirmed that statement was correct but denied reports he also said the plant could be shut, which had prompted fears more than 1,000 jobs could go.
Last night, unions – which have fought a lengthy, bitter dispute with the firm over pensions – accused the Ineos boss of engaging in scare tactics to intimidate the workforce.
Workers at the site staged a two-day strike over proposed pensions changes in 2008 that crippled the refinery and triggered panic-buying. It was said to be the most costly action in British history
Mr Ratcliffe was quoted yesterday as saying that, in the past few years, the Grangemouth plant had “not been a successful asset” and had “lost us a significant amount of money”.
Referring to hopes by Ineos to build an additional facility in the town to process large quantities of an alternative fuel for processing, he said any decision depended on the outcome of talks with unions on reducing costs there.
“To have a future, it needs cheap feedstocks [the raw materials for processing] and a sensible cost structure. If we can’t resolve those issues, it would need to shut down,” he reportedly said.
He is reported to have mentioned “expensive” costs, which included “old-fashioned pensions” for staff.
Pat Rafferty, Scottish secretary of Unite, which represents 1,200 workers at Grangemouth, said: “We are disappointed in this blatant attempt by Jim Ratcliffe to position the workforce ahead of scheduled talks on pensions and future site investments.
“Our position is that we should talk face-to-face on these matters rather than conduct our industrial business in the media.”
A Unite spokesman said: “We are shocked and the workforce will be shocked. It’s going to be upsetting for them [to learn of threats to their jobs through the media].”
An Ineos spokesman said there were no plans to shut any of the site down.
He confirmed Mr Ratcliffe had described the petrochemicals side of the site as being at a crossroads but claimed he spoke of the need for investment to address issues, not closure.
The 1,700-acre site at Grangemouth is said to make more than a million tonnes of chemical products annually in various plants, while the refinery has an annual capacity of 10m tonnes.
Earlier this year, Unite threatened to shut the refinery after a key figure at the centre of the Falkirk candidate-selection row was suspended.
Stephen Deans, the chairman of Unite in Scotland, was suspended amid claims he had been involved in a bid to manipulate the contest to select a Westminster candidate. However, Ineos reversed its decision after Unite threatened to “shut your factory down” by staging a strike.