Grangemouth crisis: Unite union now accepts plant rescue plan
The union at the centre of the Grangemouth crisis has decided to "embrace" a survival plan aimed at preventing the site’s closure and the loss of thousands of jobs.
Unite’s leader, Len McCluskey, said the union was working to persuade owners Ineos to reverse its shock decision to close the petrochemical complex. But he denied that the union had been forced into a humiliating climbdown by the plant’s owners: "My union is engaged with thousands of companies every day to negotiate plans to save jobs. There is nothing humiliating about negotiating plans to ensure jobs and communities are safe."
The development followed a meeting at the site between general secretary Len McCluskey and union shop stewards.
McCluskey said the shop stewards had decided they had to embrace the survival plan, "warts and all", in the wake of the closure decision.
Workers at the petrochemical site, and adjoining oil refinery, had refused to sign up to the plan, which included a pay freeze, ending of the final salary pension scheme, and other changes to terms and conditions.
McCluskey said: "We are not going to let this plant close. We are encouraged by the comments of the First Minister that he too will not let this plant close.
"We have a situation whereby a company has put down an ultimatum and we have to respond. It is not how we engage in modern day industrial relations." Ineos is expected to wait until further meetings are held later today involving politicians before responding to the latest development.
Ineos director Tom Crotty has denied that the firm lured unions into a trap over Grangemouth.
Speaking on BBC News 24, Crotty rejected the suggestion that Ineos has wanted to shut the plan all along, and used the unpalatable cost-cutting plan as a way of forcing the union’s hand. If staff had voted in favour, he argued, Ineos would have invested £300m and the plant would soon be reopening.
Crotty reiterated that Ineos will consult with shareholders again if the Unite union substantially alters its position and accepts major changes at the plant. A Downing Street spokesman said: "The prime minister is keen that they are back round the table talking. Clearly, we want both sides to continue with those talks and come to a solution if possible.
"Grangemouth is clearly of vital importance to the Scottish economy and the Prime Minister is keen that those discussions continue and hopefully they can find a solution."
Wednesday’s closure announcement
The government reacted with dismay to Wednesday’s announcement and the climate change secretary, Ed Davey, pledged that all efforts would be made to rescue the plant on the Firth of Forth. Grangemouth is Scotland’s biggest manufacturing business. Its refinery supplies most of the country’s fuel, and the petrochemicals plant produces plastics used in industries ranging from cars to packaging. Its closure would have far-reaching implications for Scotland and the UK.
The company said it had no alternative but to shut down the business after it failed to persuade its staff to accept a survival plan.
Unite said about 680 of the site’s 1,370-strong workforce had rejected the company’s proposals, which include a pay freeze for 2014-16, removal of a bonus up to 2016, a reduced shift allowance and the ending of the final-salary pension scheme.
Ineos had said it was ready to invest £300m in Grangemouth, but only if workers agreed to the new terms. It said the plant, which has been shut down since last week because of the dispute, was losing £10m a month.
In an urgent question on Grangemouth in parliament on Wednesday, Davey told MPs repeatedly that the government wanted the plant to stay open if at all possible. He said it would still consider a business case to provide investment to help keep the plant running, but Downing Street dismissed speculation that the plant could be nationalised, saying it was a matter for the unions and owner to resolve.
The prime minister’s spokesman said it was disappointing that the petrochemicals side of the plant had closed and called on both parties to continue their dialogue over the future of the refinery.
Number 10 said the closure of the Grangemouth refinery would not pose a threat to fuel supplies, after the AA warned it could hit petrol prices. A dispute over pay and conditions at the oil refinery remains unresolved.
Len McCluskey explains Unite’s position:
"What’s different? The company’s closure of the plant has led our stewards to believe the priority is to keep the plant open. We have to say to the company that the survival plan is something we are prepared to embrace and go along with if, if you like. But that includes discussions and consultation and we will see what comes out of those discussions. I wouldn’t want to mislead you. Their survival plan requires us to accept certain things and our stewards’ position is that we are accepting those issues.
"It’s not that it’s all up for negotiation. They are demanding we accept their ultimatums and we have decided to accept their ultimatums. The consultation will be around the logistics of those issues and the practicalities of those issues. There will be no doubt some alterations within the context of those discussions. What has changed is the company have closed the plant and have put it into liquidation and we are not going to allow that to happen and the stewards are now responding to the wishes of our members who may feel outraged by what has happened but the priority is to keep the plant open and we will see what the future brings." Sean Farrell