Grangemouth dispute: Plant's survival a 'bittersweet victory'

worker at grangemouth
Image caption Workers managed to save their jobs but were forced to accept changes they had fought to resist

There were a few cheers, a few hoots on the horns of cars and tankers, but this victory was bittersweet.

The 1,370 Ineos staff had been forced to swallow the changes to pay, pensions and conditions which they had fought so hard to resist.

The reason for their change of heart was clear. Grangemouth was in danger of becoming another Ravenscraig.

Not for two decades had Scotland faced such a serious threat to its industrial base.

Why? Because this complex matters. It supplies 70% of the fuel to Scotland's filling stations and much to Northern Ireland and the North of England too.

It provides power to a vital North Sea pipeline.

And, according to the Scottish government, it contributes around £1bn per year to the economy, the equivalent of some 6,500 full time jobs.

Ineos had repeatedly warned that the refinery would not be able to carry on without the petrochemicals plant.

And so, when the workers faced the cameras with smiles, it was in the knowledge that, just the previous day, half the complex was closing and the other half was in peril.

"We were staring into the abyss," said 53-year-old Grangemouth worker John Convery, who added: "I feel very, very pleased. For myself personally, my family and my colleagues. But there's a lot of people who were very, very worried."

That view was shared by one of the younger workers here, Ilolo Adigwe.

"Hearing that the plant was going to shut was really worrying for everybody," she said.

"So now we've got good news, everyone is happy to go back to work."

Eddie Heaney, 59, gave a broad grin as he described the decision as "absolutely fantastic".

Pulled back

"It's a chance for a new beginning, because if the management and the union can develop trust then this plant's got a great future," he said.

In Grangemouth town centre the mellow voice and gentle guitar of Stuart Miller echoed around the shopping arcade.

"Let it shine on" the busker sang, and it seemed to suit the mood.

Almost every business for miles around depends on the plant. They had looked over the cliff and were grateful to have been pulled back.

"I'm delighted at the news today," said Mr Miller, who admitted he had been "gutted" the day before.

"I don't think the unions have covered themselves in any glory here," he added.

That is a view shared by plenty of people around the plant, particularly among the 2,000 contractors who have lost work as a result of the dispute.

Gerry Finn, who runs a bakery in the town, said: "We do rely on Ineos workers and the contractors to come in. It's a big deal for me."

He said he was delighted with the settlement.

But some contractors may not get back into the complex as quickly as they would hope.

The founder of Ineos, Jim Ratcliffe - who made a flying visit to his plant on Friday evening - has warned that it could take until Christmas to fully fire it up again.

But it could have been so much worse.

Grangemouth was in danger of becoming a byword for the biggest blow to British industry in decades.

Instead the town survives and hopes now to thrive again. Just before lunchtime, the workers poured out of the plant, relief etched on their faces.