GRANGEMOUTH – STRIKE CALLED OFF BUT A BAD TASTE REMAINS

Grangemouth - another totem of Scottish industry

The refinery at Grangemouth is still under long-term threat

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 LogoUnite 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”.

Pat Rafferty of Unite
Pat Rafferty of Unite
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.

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David Calder has been a broadcast journalist for over 30 years. Before
moving to the Caledonian Mercury, he worked for the BBC (national and
regional) as well as parts of ITV and the World Service.

He worked for prestigious programmes such as The Money Programme, You & Yours, Today and The World at One. He spent two years making mini-documentaries for
Radio 5 Live and was a regular correspondent for CBC (Radio Canada).
He was a regular reporter on various news and current affairs
programmes on BBC Scotland as well as producing or presenting
(sometimes both) science, legal affairs and arts programmes. As well
as his contributions to the Caledonian Mercury, he is also a freelance
producer in Scotland for the satellite channel, Al Jazeera.

  • Antoine Bisset

    From a distance it seems that neither side may have any sense of perspective. Whether Mr Deans should have taken time off or used works facilities in connection (or whatever) with the Falkirk by-election seems small beer compared to the cost and significance of shutting down the plant that provides Scotland with three-quarters of its fuel and is vital to keeping the North Sea oil pipeline operational.
    If the Union had simply agreed to cover the cost of Mr Deans activities or inactivity it would have been a lot cheaper for Unite than this unsatisfactory debacle.
    It would also be interesting to know how a claimed loss of £10m per month can be substantiated? Most commercial operations losing money at that rate would shut upon the instant. Could it be that Ineos (foreign owned) are angling for money from the Government?