For months, the Unite trade union has been calling the bluff of Grangemouth’s management. Ineos has said the plant is losing £10 million a month and it has offered to invest £300 million upgrading it – but they wanted workforce reforms, including a two-year pay freeze and the end of final-salary pension schemes (ie, pretty much what the rest of us have been used to for years).
The unions refused, and wanted the cash anyway. The owners said no: shareholders were already losing money and could not afford to lose more. Calum MacLean, chairman of Ineos Grangemouth, was fairly stark in his assessment:
‘People need to realise that as a site, this site’s lost £150 million per year for the last four years. It’s got a pension fund which is £200m in deficit and it is on the point of going bust, and if it wasn’t for the support of the shareholders, who are funding those losses, there’s a very serious situation here which means the site may not start up again.’
As he kept saying all along, he was not joking. Faced with huge energy costs (made far worse by ‘green’ policies from successive governments) the plant struggled to compete in a global market. Unite seemed to think that he was joking, or at least exaggerating – the plant, it claimed, is secretly profitable. They wanted to go through the books themselves. Ineos didn’t agree. It made a final offer to the staff, which was rejected yesterday. At 9am this morning a decision was taken to close the petrochemical part of Grangemouth and call in the liquidators – suggesting it was lossmaking after all. The more important oil refinery stays open – it’s jointly owner by Ineos and PetroChina – but 800 of the 1,370 jobs may now be lost. Alex Salmond is apparently leading a hunt for a new owner (a rather discouraging thought). You can bet he’ll find a way of blaming callous Westminster for this – much of energy policy is decided in London, for all of the UK.
Ineos has, to put it mildly, not worried too much about public relations or union relations – and yes, its intransigence is part of this story. But the larger part is a new, militant bent in trade union behaviour. They played high-stakes poker, and lost – or, more accurately, the hundreds of workers now facing the dole have lost. Right now, it’s pretty hard to argue those Grangemouth workers facing redundancy have had very good value from their union dues.Tags: Grangemouth, Unite