It had felt a little like a bad memory of the past – a trade union holding not just an employer but perhaps a nation to ransom. But as in the past, there are always more than one side to a story.
Unite members had been due to begin a 48-hour strike at the oil refinery at Grangemouth on Sunday morning, over the treatment of one of the union convenors, Stephen Deans. The matter has little to do with working conditions or industrial relations in the plant. Rather, it is a question of local Politics. Mr Deans chairs the Labour Party constituency in Falkirk and was involved in the row over the selection of the new candidate there. He was suspended by Ineos but later reinstated. However, he is still facing an internal investigation by the company over issues linked to the controversy.
This morning, the union is presenting itself as the “good guy” by calling off the strike to protect what it calls a “national asset”. It says that representatives from the plant’s owners, Ineos, had “walked away” from talks in Glasgow at the conciliation service ACAS after 16 hours, describing the company’s behaviour as “scandalous”.
Unite’s Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, explained that the talks, which began on Tuesday afternoon, had broken up in the early hours of the morning without any resolution. “We are outraged that Ineos representatives walked away from Acas talks,” he said, “after 16 hours of negotiation and on the cusp of an agreement, for the ludicrous reason that Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe instructed his management representatives to demand an apology on his behalf.
“Unite offered Ineos every proposal we could practically make, specifically an offer to enter into negotiations under the auspices of Acas to secure the future of Grangemouth with the immediate call-off of all industrial action and a guarantee of no strikes during these negotiations.
“However at 5am this morning Acas representatives informed us that we could not conclude an agreement to take to our members because a list of fresh demands were placed upon us and because ‘Jim wants an apology’ and that this was ‘a deal-breaker’.
“I have never came across anything like this in over 30 years of employment relations and it is utterly reprehensible. It is absolutely incredible that the future of this site, its workforce – both permanent and contracted employees – and the national interest has been totally compromised by one man’s out of control ego.”
Ineos has so far not made any statement. However, it has previously made it clear that Grangemouth was losing £10m a month and would close in 2017 without investment and cost-cutting.