Grangemouth petrochemicals plant closure ‘catastrophic’: union

23 October 2013 16:54  [Source: ICIS news]

LONDON (ICIS)--Trade body Unite on Wednesday described the decision by INEOS to close its petrochemicals complex in Grangemouth, the UK, as “catastrophic”, and “tantamount to economic and industrial vandalism”.

Swiss-headquarted INEOS told employees on Wednesday that the site will remain offline after being shut down early last week in preparation for anticipated industrial action. Liquidators are to be appointed within a week, the INEOS said on Wednesday.

Petroineos, the INEOS/PetroChina joint venture that co-owns the Grangemouth oil refinery, will now decide whether to restart the facility.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish secretary said: "Unite and our members at Grangemouth are devastated by the announcement this morning of the closure of the petrochemical plant.  It has confirmed our fears that this was the intention of INEOS all along."

The majority of Grangemouth employees voted in favour of a strike after Unite called a ballot on the measure.

Unite attributed the vote to INEOS’ decision to launch an investigation into the conduct of site employee representative Stephen Deans, but INEOS had made several public statements at that point about the site’s lack of competitiveness – attributed in part to the financial burden of the site’s pension scheme – and warning that Grangemouth could close by 2017 if a solution was not found.

Industrial action first took the form of an overtime ban and a work-to-rule, but Unite announced plans for a 48-hour walkout from the morning of 20 October.

The strike was called off after negotiations between INEOS and Unite at the Glasgow offices of industrial dispute mediator ACAS broke down on 16 October. Petrochemical and oil refining units had already begun to be taken offline in preparation for the walkout, and INEOS responded that the site would remain offline for the rest of the week.

"Discussions have taken place with the company this morning [Wednesday] and will continue over the course of the day. We have made further proposals in a last-ditch effort to stave off these catastrophic job losses which we believe are tantamount to economic and industrial vandalism,” Rafferty

"Make no mistake, one man is holding this workforce and this country to ransom and that man is INEOS owner Jim Ratcliffe,” he added.

"The ball is now in the court of Jim Ratcliffe and the respective governments in Edinburgh and Westminster and we await their responses," Rafferty said.

INEOS had issued a list of proposals to Grangemouth employees related to the “survival plan” it had issued in late September, with measures including pension scheme reforms and the need to secure investment to upgrade site infrastructure to allow the import of shale-derived gas feedstocks from the US.

Employees had until 21 October to respond to the proposals, and INEOS said on Wednesday that half of the 1,370 employees at the site had voted against the proposals, leading it to decide to leave the petrochemicals complex offline.

According to INEOS, nearly all administrative staff voted in favour of the proposals, while the majority of shop floor staff voted against them.

INEOS Grangemouth petrochemicals chairman Calum MacLean said, “This is a hugely sad day for everyone at Grangemouth. We have tried our hardest to convince employees of the need for change but unsuccessfully.

“There was only ever going to be one outcome to this story if nothing changed and we continued to lose money,” he added.

Additional reporting by Tom Brown

By: Franco Capaldo
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