WORKERS at Scotland’s only oil refinery are to strike for two days, starting a week tomorrow, in a dispute over the treatment of a union official.
The Unite union warned drivers of potential disruption to fuel supplies because of the walkout, from Sunday, 20 October.
Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “A damaging strike may shut down the Grangemouth site, with serious ramifications for fuel production and supply throughout Scotland and the north of England.”
However, plant operator Ineos said it had “high” fuel stocks at Grangemouth and a contingency plan to use the site as an import terminal to bring additional fuel in by sea if necessary.
Ineos chairman, Calum MacLean, said: “Unite’s decision to strike is completely irresponsible.” And he added: “The strike could tip Grangemouth over the edge.”
The refinery processes 210,000 barrels of oil per day and provides most of Scotland’s fuel.
Motoring groups urged drivers not to panic-buy, because the strike is only due to last two days. An Automobile Association spokesman said: “Most drivers fill up every fortnight, so the only reason this will become a problem is if they fill up outside their normal
“It would be nonsensical for people to start panic-buying when there is a clear timescale to this dispute..”
Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, urged drivers: “Don’t panic. With such advanced notice, drivers should be aware that contingency plans will be in place.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to get this sorted out. Scottish drivers need to know that there will be long-term security of fuel supply in Scotland.”
The UK government said “robust alternative supply routes” were being organised with the Scottish Government and fuel firms.
Brian Madderson, chairman of the Petrol Retailers Association, which represents independent forecourts, said: “A major industry exercise is going on to put alternative supply plans in place.”
He said forecourts supplied by Grangemouth had already been urged to raise stock levels to at least 5-10 per cent above normal and would now be advised to stock up.
Mr Madderson added: “We would now urge retailers to take immediate action to stock their forecourt tanks to the optimum levels. This should ensure motorists have no need to panic-buy ahead of the strike.”
UK Energy Secretary Edward Davey said: “It’s very disappointing that Unite has decided to strike.
“I urge them to call it off and for both parties involved to enter into talks about the long- term future of the Grangemouth plant and reach a fair, sustainable resolution.
“We have been working closely with the fuel industry and Scottish Government to put robust alternative supply routes in place in the case of a strike, which means that motorists can carry on as normal, and other impacts will be kept to a minimum.”
A strike at Grangemouth in 2008 is estimated to have cost the economy hundreds of millions of pounds. It caused fuel shortages at the pumps and price rises.
The Scottish Government expressed “disappointment” at the planned strike. A spokeswoman said: “This news reinforces our fundamental view that this dispute can only be properly and fully resolved by negotiation between the company and the trade unions.
“We will now redouble our efforts to encourage negotiation to avert a strike, whilst taking forward contingency planning activity.”
The strike follows Ineos launching an internal investigation into union convener Stephen Deans, who was involved in a dispute over the selection of a Labour candidate in nearby Falkirk.
Mr Deans, who is chairman of Labour’s constituency party, was suspended by Ineos, then reinstated. Unite accused Ineos of refusing to take the dispute to the conciliation service.
Mr Rafferty said: “Unite has made every effort to pull Ineos back from the brink but at every opportunity this company has kicked our proposals for peace into touch.”
Mr MacLean said: “We were in meetings with Unite as late as yesterday and discussions have certainly not been exhausted.
“We told them that we would be willing to go to ACAS at the appropriate time but rather than negotiate they prefer to strike.”
Unite received an overwhelming mandate for strike action from the workforce, with 81.4 per cent voting for walkouts and 90 per cent for other forms of industrial action, on an 86 per cent turnout.