Oct 18 2013
Unions at Grangemouth oil refinery would "happily" agree not to strike until the end of this year, in return for employers reopening talks about future conditions for workers, the Scottish secretary of the Unite union said today.
Pat Rafferty's comment came after First Minister Alex Salmond called for a "truce deal" between unions and operator Ineos, which has shut down the plant on safety grounds in the face of threatened industrial action.
Ineos director Tom Crotty said the company would be ready to reopen the complex on the Firth of Forth if it received formal assurances from Unite that there would be no strike between now and the end of December. The union has called off a 48-hour strike planned for Sunday.
Mr Rafferty told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We would happily sign up to having no more strikes until the end of the year.
"We will enter happily into an agreement right now that will take us to Christmas, where we will have no industrial action and no ballots. In return for that, all we ask the company to do is sit down with us at the negotiating table over the next 45 days and look to try and seek agreement.
"We are willing to say no strikes until the end of December and we welcome the First Minister's input. What we are saying is, in return for that , the company should sit down with us over the next 45 days. The plant should be turned on. There's no reason right now why that plant shouldn't be turned on, because there's no industrial action."
Mr Rafferty said the no-strike offer until the end of 2013 was on the table at recent talks at conciliation service Acas, but he said Ineos "walked away" from those talks and moved to impose "detrimental terms and conditions" on workers.
Asked whether Ineos could reopen Grangemouth in response to the Unite offer, Mr Crotty told Today: "Of course we can. If we get the assurance, we will switch the plant on. If we get that formally, then that's great."
He added: "What we are trying to do right now is talk to our employees about the urgent changes we need to make to this site.
"We have a business that's losing £10 million every month. We've put £1 billion into that business. We need to put another £300 million into it to get it sorted out, to build a new terminal that will allow us to bring new sources of gas in, because the gas in the North Sea is running out.
"If we don't do that, that site will close. By 2017, it will not exist. That's a disaster for Scotland that we are desperately trying to avoid. We're working to save this site. To do that we need our employees to help. That's what we are talking to our employees about right now."
Ineos has previously said it is keeping the plant shut while workers are consulted about proposed changes to issues such as pensions.
Letters have been sent to the homes of Grangemouth workers detailing changes to their terms and conditions, including ending their final salary pension scheme, freezing pay and bonuses, reducing shift allowances and new agreements with unions including having part-time conveners.
The letter said: "We expect to seek individual employee agreement to the final changes, and, where agreement is not forthcoming, to implement the changes in due course by issuing notices of termination and offering new contracts of employment to those employees which incorporate the new terms."
Unite said staff have been told to accept the new terms and conditions by 6pm on Monday, which amounts to a "sign or be sacked" ultimatum, and that it is considering legal action.
Ineos said it is going directly to the employees rather than deal with their union, amid fresh clashes over the company's finances and its decision to close the plant.
The Grangemouth refining and chemicals complex has been shut down twice in the last 40 years - during a previous strike in 2008 and again in preparation for the latest walkout, according to Ineos.