The two sides in a dispute at the Grangemouth oil refinery were embroiled in a row today ahead of fresh talks aimed at averting a strike over the treatment of a union convenor.
Leaders of the Unite union will meet with officials from the site’s owners Ineos again today under the chairmanship of the conciliation service Acas.
Union members at the Scottish oil refinery and adjoining petrochemical plant are due to stage a 48-hour strike from Sunday in a row over the treatment of Unite convenor Stephen Deans.
He was suspended by the company following the dispute about the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk, where he is chairman of the constituency party.
He was later reinstated but faces an internal inquiry by the company.
Ineos has warned that Grangemouth is losing £10 million a month and will close by 2017 without fresh investment and reduced costs.
Ineos said it was “extremely disappointed” at the lack of progress at yesterday’s talks and criticised the inclusion of Mr Deans in the Unite delegation, saying it was “completely inappropriate” that he should be at the meeting.
Calum MacLean, chairman of Grangemouth Petrochemicals, who will lead the talks for the company, said: “We came to Acas in good faith and remain determined to resolve the issues facing us if at all possible.
“Unfortunately, Unite seems determined to insist on one rule for union officials and one rule for everyone else, which is completely unacceptable to the company. It also seems determined to ignore the fact that a strike could destroy Grangemouth and cause significant damage to the whole of Scotland.”
Pat Rafferty Unite’s Scottish secretary, hit back, saying it was “ridiculous” for the company to express disappointment at the presence of Mr Deans.
He said: “Stephen is a senior Unite representative at Ineos, a crucial part of the negotiating committee and a trusted and respected advocate of the workforce.
“Company representatives were told yesterday by Acas that if Stephen’s presence created any conflict of interest then he would leave the talks. The company agreed fully with his attendance at these talks and posed no objection.
“Unite also offered through the auspices of the Acas senior conciliator a firm proposal that would end the dispute at Grangemouth and avoid damaging strikes. Ineos rejected this proposal and offered no alternatives.
“Unite has made all of the running to resolve this dispute. Ineos has offered nothing and it’s getting increasingly difficult to take the company seriously.”
Staff at Grangemouth have already begun shutting down the plant in readiness for the planned walkout this weekend.