ALEX Salmond has called on Grangemouth operator Ineos to “fire up” the oil refinery immediately and resolve its differences with the unions, warning that the plant is “in mortal danger”.
In his speech to the SNP conference in Perth, the First Minister said: “The Grangemouth refinery has been in existence for 90 years. I grew in Linlithgow and I have been conscious of the fires of Grangemouth all my life, but right now that plant is idle and cold.
“And as the stand-off continues, the threat to Grangemouth grows. So let us inject some common-sense into this position. To the union:
drop any strike threat. To the management: fire up the plant and then negotiate against the background of a working facility, not one which is in mortal danger. Find common ground.
“Scotland wants to see Grangemouth operating and the people of Grangemouth working.”
Bosses at Ineos told Scotland on Sunday that a safety report highlights potential serious issues if they were to restart the site without an “absolute guarantee” there would be no further strike action this year. Gordon Grant, the site manager who commissioned the report, said production cannot be resumed at the plant in case it had to shut down again within days.
He claimed repeated shutdowns and restarts would create an unacceptable risk of equipment failure and human error, and asked for a “no conditions, no strings attached assurance there will be no more industrial action” by tomorrow.
Unite union representatives, who are expected to hold a rally today outside the plant with workers in protest against a threatened pay freeze and changes to their pension provision, said the company was talking “nonsense” and was “holding the country to ransom” through its behaviour.
Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish secretary, said: “It is absolute nonsense. There is no reason whatsoever the site can’t get back into production, irrespective of this safety report.
“There would be no reason to take the site down again after a few days. There is no industrial action on. There is none planned. We are not threatening them with strike action, and they have formally been told that.
“They’re using this as a bargaining chip; they’re using it to blackmail workers. They’re basically saying: ‘If you don’t accept the changes to your job terms, we will keep the plant down.’”
Rafferty added: “We want to work something out for the benefit of all, but the plant is being kept down to essentially force agreement to these changes. We are looking at a pension scheme that will be changed to a money purchase scheme, a pay freeze until 2016, redundancy terms to be scrapped to the statutory minimum and overtime being reduced. Taking into account of all the changes, workers could see £10,000 shaved off their salary every year.
“We are telling our members to reject this [the Monday deadline]. Ineos need to sit down and negotiate with us.”
Graham, however, stressed that safety risks at the plant meant they could not restart without the assurance of no further industrial action this year. He pointed out that when the plant stood down following strike action at Grangemouth in 2008, there were two significant safety incidents – a large fire on a compressor and a major release of crude oil.