JOHN Swinney has given guarded support for a move that would see firms such as Ineos having an employee on their board to prevent breakdowns in industrial relations.
The Scottish finance secretary said the idea was “an important issue to consider” in the wake of the crisis at Grangemouth last week, when the collapse in talks between Ineos, the owner, and the Unite union, took the giant petrochemical plant to the brink of closure.
Mr Swinney was speaking as left-wing MSPs in the Scottish Parliament yesterday criticised Ineos, whose founder and majority shareholder Jim Ratcliffe, decided to close the plant last week after Unite had rejected new terms and conditions for workers.
They said it could not be justified for one individual owner of a private firm to be able to hold such a sway over a significant strategic asset.
In a statement to parliament on the crisis, resolved after the union backed down, Mr Swinney said that industrial relations at Grangemouth were “deeply unsatisfactory”.
Asked whether firms should be compelled to have a member of staff on their board, Mr Swinney said yesterday: “I think the companies’ attitude and perspective are enhanced by a breadth of perception on their boards and by employee representation and that is an important issue to consider as we try to get the best possible atmosphere for industrial relations in this country.”
However, pressed by both Green and Conservative MSPs on the respective failure of Ineos and Unite to resolve their dispute, Mr Swinney refused to apportion blame.
It came after Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said “the irresponsible actions of Unite” had put the plant at risk, and Green MSP Patrick Harvie attacked Mr Ratcliffe for his behaviour.
The fall-out from the Grangemouth affair continued yesterday as former foreign secretary Jack Straw said that Labour should re-open an inquiry into the Falkirk Labour party.
Mr Straw said that Labour “should certainly actively consider reopening the investigation” into claims of union involvement over candidate selection in the Falkirk constituency.
The chairman of the party, Stephen Deans, who was accused earlier this year of trying to rig the selection of the new Labour candidate for the constituency, resigned from his job at Grangemouth on Monday following an internal company investigation into his behaviour.
Mr Deans was suspended from the Labour Party, but was later cleared by an investigation and reinstated.
He quit his position ahead of a meeting with Ineos management after they carried out their inquiry into his conduct. The company presented Mr Deans, the Unite convener at Grangemouth, with a cache of e-mails last week, which allegedly indicated he had helped derail a probe into vote-rigging in Falkirk.
Falkirk MP Eric Joyce – whose retiral sparked the selection contest – said Labour was protecting the Unite organiser because it “fears” the union’s leadership.
However, Unite’s chief of staff, Andrew Murray, said Mr Joyce had given a “wrong reading” of the situation. He added that there was “no evidence” that “anything untoward” had taken place.