UNION leaders have called for an emergency summit to avert potentially crippling strikes at Scotland’s only oil refinery.
Workers at the Ineos plant in Grangemouth will on Monday begin a work-to-rule in support of an union official embroiled in the Falkirk vote-rigging row.
However, Unite has not ruled out an all-out strike, which the union claims would be “hugely damaging” for the UK economy.
On Sunday, reports suggested a walkout could disrupt fuel supplies, delay flights and cost the UK economy more than £50 million a day.
The UK government is understood to be drawing up contingency measures for a shutdown, with a Treasury report warning that even a two-day stoppage could lead to power cuts.
The assessment also warns that a shutdown would have an impact on long-haul flights from Scotland and on petrol supplies to filling stations.
The industrial action at Grangemouth is in support of Unite convenor Stevie Deans, who was suspended, then reinstated, by the company over allegations linked to his involvement in the bitter row over the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk, where he is chairman of the constituency party.
Unite has accused Ineos of trying to “provoke” a strike. A previous stoppage at the site in 2008 was said to have cost hundreds of millions of pounds in lost production and other knock-on effects.
Workers have voted heavily in favour of action up to and including a strike – and Unite officials said they had not ruled out calling for a walkout.
Pat Rafferty, the union’s Scottish regional secretary, said the company was using the Deans dispute as an excuse to introduce sweeping reforms, including pension changes, job losses, an end to collective bargaining and poorer pay and conditions for new employees.
Unite called for a summit with the company and politicians, and urged the Scottish Government to hold an emergency debate to help prevent the dispute escalating.
“The company is holding Stevie Deans hostage, and playing Russian roulette with fuel supplies,” he said. “The changes being proposed are completely unpalatable to us and we feel we are being pushed into taking strike action.”
Ineos has warned Grangemouth will close by 2017 without new investment and savings in running costs.
The company has put forward a survival plan and has asked the Scottish and UK governments for grants and loan guarantees totalling £150m.
Chairman Calum MacLean has warned “there is no plan B”.
Yesterday, the company announced one of its subsidiaries is to close, with the loss of 18 jobs. It blamed low-cost imports and a “hostile” trading environment, as well as the “high cost” of products from Grangemouth.
The vinyl acetate monomer facility at Saltend in Hull has traditionally taken up to 100,000 tonnes of product from Grangemouth but the company said that low-cost imports have made closure “inevitable”.
Finance secretary John Swinney said the Scottish Government was working hard to help end the current impasse.
He said: “We are in discussions with the unions and Ineos in order to resolve the current situation and offer support for their future plans. We will continue those active discussions in the days ahead.”