Belfast Telegraph

Talks over oil refinery dispute

Talks are set to take place between the owners of a giant oil refinery and petrochemical site and workers planning a 48-hour strike.

Bosses from Ineos Grangemouth (UK) in Scotland have said they hope to resolve the dispute over a union convenor when they meet with Unite the Union at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) in Glasgow this afternoon.

Calum MacLean, Ineos chairman, said: "We have always been prepared to go to Acas if this helps to resolve a strike that Grangemouth petrochemical plant and refinery cannot afford.

"We hope to be able to resolve the dispute and address the financial issues that threaten the survival of the entire site."

The company has already begun to shut down the site in preparation for a potential strike because it takes more than a week to do so.

Ineos recently launched a survival plan for Grangemouth, warning that the site will close by 2017 without investment and reduced costs.

The company said the site has lost more than £576 million in the last four years and continues to lose £10 million per month.

It also claims that the pension scheme is £200 million in deficit and pension costs of 65% of salary are "unsustainable".

Unite members at Grangemouth plan to walk out for 48 hours from 7am on October 20 over the treatment of union convenor Stephen Deans.

An internal investigation by Ineos into Mr Deans, who was involved in the dispute over the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk, will be completed by October 25, officials have said.

Mr Deans, who is chairman of Labour's constituency party, was suspended by Ineos, then reinstated.

Unite accused Ineos of refusing to take the dispute to the conciliation service.

Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: "We welcome Ineos's change of heart to join us at Acas.

"We've repeatedly urged the company to sit down with us at the conciliation service to resolve the issues surrounding the unfair treatment of our convenor and the future of Grangemouth.

"Over the weekend we have been working tirelessly to secure these talks and hope that the company will engage in them in an open, constructive manner."

An overwhelming mandate for strike action was received by Unite from the workforce, with 81.4% voting for walkouts and 90% for other forms of industrial action, on an 86% turnout.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said contingency planning has been under way since the strike was announced.

She said: "Ministers and officials have redoubled efforts to encourage Unite and Ineos to enter talks and we welcome the fact that they are now going to talk this afternoon.

"It is important that both sides have time and space to progress discussions, resolve the issues between them and move away from strike action."

Energy Secretary Edward Davey said: "I have worked hard with both sides to persuade them to attend talks with Acas and I am extremely pleased that this is now happening. This is a very welcome and encouraging step."