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Grangemouth: Alex Salmond in hunt for buyer

Members of the Unite union on picket duty outside Grangemouth this week. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Members of the Unite union on picket duty outside Grangemouth this week. Picture: Ian Rutherford

  • by SCOTT MACNAB AND RORY REYNOLDS
 

The Scottish Government is actively scouring the globe for a buyer for the troubled Grangemouth plant, in a bid to secure its long-term future and avoid a damaging stand-off between current owners Ineos and the workforce.

The revelation comes as the deadline for workers accepting new terms and conditions from Ineos passed with more than 665 staff at the refinery and petrochemical plant refusing the deal.

This accounts for 65 per cent of the Unite union’s 1,035 members at Grangemouth – and about half of the total 1,350 staff at the site.

Last night, a government source said ministers were concerned about the harm a long-term dispute could cause as the plant lay idle, and were keen to ensure there was a Scottish component to a plant that plays such a large part in the Scottish economy.

The source said major players within corporate Scotland and Global Scots, a network of business leaders who promote Scottish firms abroad, had been contacted and discussions were taking place.

Ineos has insisted the changes to workers’ terms and conditions are “vital” to secure the plant’s long-term future.

But the Unite union has accused the company of giving staff an ultimatum of either accepting worse pay and conditions or losing their jobs.

The 2.6 square-mile complex was shut down last week ahead of a planned strike by Unite members. It remains closed, despite a 48-hour strike, which had been due to begin on Sunday, being called off, and it is unclear when it might reopen.

Urging the company to return to talks at the conciliation service Acas, Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “This

resounding rejection of the company’s cynical blackmail sends a clear message to the company.

“The people who have so far rejected Ineos’ ultimatum are the backbone of the plant, the people who keep the site running and the oil flowing.

“The people of Grangemouth and Scotland will be expecting Jim Ratcliffe and the Ineos shareholders to now take heed. Do the right thing, drop the threats to the workforce, fire up the plant and get around the table at Acas.”

The firm is majority-owned by billionaire Mr Ratcliffe and he will meet with other shareholders to discuss the response from workers today.

The unionised staff are understood to account for the bulk of the site’s skilled workers, such as electricians and engineers, and the prospect of firing up the plant without two-thirds of them appears unlikely.

The company is demanding that the union guarantee there will be no strike action before the end of the year and that staff accept the changes to pay and conditions. Unite has accepted the “no-strike” deal, but said the changes to working contracts must be negotiated.

The refinery, which has an annual capacity of ten million tonnes, provides most of the fuel in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland. The petrochemicals facility manufactures more than two million tonnes of chemical products per year, which are later transformed into items such as bottles, pipes, cabling and insulation.

First Minister Alex Salmond called for the union to agree to no industrial action and for management to reopen the site in order for negotiations to take place at the weekend.

Ineos has warned the plant will close in 2017 without fresh investment and changes to workers’ terms and conditions.

Calum MacLean, chairman of Ineos Grangemouth, warned yesterday that the site had made significant losses in recent years.

“People need to realise that as a site, this site’s lost £150 million per year for the last four years,” he said. “It’s got a pension fund which is £200m in deficit and it is on the point of going bust, and if it wasn’t for the support of the shareholders, who are funding those losses, there’s a very serious situation here which means the site may not start up again.”

Meanwhile, Gordon Grant, Ineos site manager at Grangemouth, said a decision over the future of the plant, and the results of those who had agreed to the new deal, and those who had not, would be delivered to staff face to face, probably tomorrow.

“The important thing is we have an open conversation with the shareholder tomorrow and I cannot pre-empt what the shareholder will decide,” he added.

“I’m pretty clear in my mind that whatever that decision is it should be communicated directly to the workforce face to face.”

Mr MacLean said he “totally agrees” with Mr Salmond’s call to get the plant restarted.

“We have had meetings with Alex and we said that we will start up the plant as soon as the unions say that they will not strike,” he said.

Ineos sent a letter last Thursday to all 1,350 workers at the site asking them to indicate their support or rejection of the plan by 6pm last night.

The changes included freezing the basic salary and offering no bonuses until at least the end of 2016. The shift allowance would also be reduced and pensions transferred from a final salary to a defined benefits scheme.

The company has said no job cuts were expected. It also said employees who supported its survival plan would receive a payment of up to £15,000.

Unite said it had strongly advised its members at Grangemouth not to return the forms backing the changes

David Cameron’s official spokesman said yesterday the Prime Minister’s message to both sides would be to ”urge them to continue to talk and find a way to secure a long-term future for Grangemouth”.

Fresh Grangemouth talks end in acrimony

Fresh talks aimed at defusing the bitter dispute at Grangemouth ended in further acrimony yesterday.

Union leaders claim one of their conveners was told to “shut up” by management during a “hostile” meeting at the plant yesterday morning.

The company declined to comment directly on the claims, but said negotiations in the dispute so far had been “robust”.

Peter Welsh, of Unite, said yesterday: “There was another meeting this morning between site management and the conveners and the tone of the meeting continued in the same vein as it has been.

“We’ve got a hostile management. Some would say they’re questioning, others that they’re trying to bait us. This morning one of the conveners was basically told to ‘shut up’.”

Gordon Grant, Ineos site manager at Grangemouth, said: “Our primary responsibility at the site is safety and we just need a simple answer to a simple question, the question being will they give us an unconditional guarantee there will be no further action for the 60 days of the consultation.”

READ MORE

The Scotsman cartoon: Grangemouth and energy bills

Matt Qvortrup: Alex Salmond reveals true heart

Peter Jones: Preparing for the unexpected

Leaders: Grangemouth problem requires co-operation

Labour rift reignited by Grangemouth dispute

• The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit www.scotsmanconferences.com

 

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