Comment: No–one wins as Ineos plays hard ball

Martin Flanagan. Picture: Adrian Lourie
Martin Flanagan. Picture: Adrian Lourie
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THE stakes got much higher in the bitter Grangemouth dispute yesterday, with Swiss owners Ineos closing the petrochemical plant after workers refused to accept changes in pay and pensions. The fate of the adjacent refinery hangs in the balance as well.

In a fast-moving situation, liquidators for the petrochemical plant are to be appointed within the week, while the Scottish government is independently seeking buyers for the plant.

No surprise at Holyrood’s consternation. Grangemouth is important for the wider Scottish economy. Strong Scottish manufacturing export figures yesterday showed that refined oil and chemicals were a major component. This looks certain to be disrupted by the ongoing problems at the plant.

More than 800 workers are employed at the lossmaking petrochemical plant, and they are said to be stunned that Ineos delivered on its threat once half the workforce rejected the changes management wanted.

They cannot be too shocked, however, as half the workforce would not have voted for the so-called “survival plan” if they hadn’t felt there was a distinct possibility Ineos would put the shutters up.

It also seems curious if the 50 per cent that rejected the survival plan thought the owners were bluffing. We are too far down the line for that, both in terms of the losses the plant is making and the stark clarity of the threat management had made.

If there had been a U-turn by Ineos at this stage, management might have thought their credibility in any future negotiations at Grangemouth would have been utterly blown.

From what the company is saying, there also seems to have been a clear split in worker views on the changes being urged on them. Almost all of the administrative staff voted for the survival plan, but a large majority of shop floor workers threw it out.

Hardly the first time in the history of British industrial relations for union influence at the rockface to be stronger than in the clerical back-up.

It is obviously a hugely sad and destabilising day for the petrochemical workers, who supply most of the fuel to Scotland and the north of England.

The uncertainty has been sharply ratcheted up. And it might get sadder if the refinery goes too. It is also not brilliant timing for the SNP’s Scottish independence campaign.

Argos bounce may prove the stronger

AFTER five years of profit decline, there is better news at Home Retail Group, owner of the Homebase DIY chain and household goods retailer Argos.

Homebase can thank the weather, Britain’s finest summer for several years getting people flocking to the garden. With Argos, it is the surge in people ordering online via mobile devices rather than having to traipse to soulless catalogue showrooms.

Given the vagaries of the weather, maybe Argos’ online following wind may prove more sustainable than Homebase’s ray of sunshine.