Scotland business

Grangemouth refinery begins shutdown

Image caption The 48-hour strike is planned to begin at 07:00 BST on Sunday, 20 October

Staff at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemical plant have begun shutting down the facility ahead of a planned 48-hour strike.

Members of the Unite union are planning to walk out on Sunday in a row over the treatment of a union convener.

Talks between the union and operator Ineos ended at about 20:00. They are due to resume on Tuesday afternoon.

Both sides said that if the strike went ahead they would not want the flow of fuel from the refinery to be affected.

Unite said it had been "working tirelessly" over the weekend to secure the talks aimed at averting the strike.

Speaking as he arrived for the talks at the Acas conciliation service in Glasgow, Unite regional secretary Pat Rafferty said he was "optimistic" a solution could be agreed.

Mr Rafferty added: "We certainly welcome the company's response in accepting the offer to come to Acas today, so we will be approaching the talks very much with an open mind, trying to look to get a resolution to this dispute.

"We have to be optimistic. We can't go in with an attitude that that's not going to be the case so we will be going in very much with the approach of trying to resolve this dispute to the betterment of all".

The talks were attended by Ineos UK chief executive Gary Haywood, who said his priority was to ensure any strike did not affect the fuel supply to Scotland.

The company had previously warned that the threatened strike "could effectively shut much of Scotland".

Mr Haywood said: "We are here for two reasons I would say. One reason is to discuss the ongoing investigation into (union convenor) Stephen Deans and the union's grievance over that matter.

"Secondly, the safe shutdown of the Grangemouth site. Safety is our prime concern and we are already well advanced in the shutdown and we would also like to determine the extent to which the union is willing to help us keep the North Sea pipeline flowing and to keep fuel flowing to the people of Scotland."

North Sea

But Mr Haywood said he did not know whether the talks would be able to stop the strike going ahead.

He added: "The site is in a dire state at the moment. We are losing £10m a month, we have invested £1bn in the site over the last six years and we do need to move the site on.

"So once we get over this short-term issue I really hope we can secure a future for the site."

Previously, the company labelled the union action as "completely irresponsible" while the union accused Ineos of "gunboat irresponsible diplomacy".

It had been feared a strike at the refinery, which processes up to 210,000 barrels of oil per day, could potentially disrupt the flow of Brent crude from the North Sea.

The Scottish and UK governments have been drawing up contingency plans and had called for more talks between the two sides.

UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey said the talks were a "very welcome and encouraging step."

He added: "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.

"Acas has the expertise to help both parties reach a sustainable solution for the company, the workforce and the whole economy."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said contingency planning had 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."

Ineos has said it will do all it can to "minimise the harm" of a strike.

Official suspended

The dispute centres on union convener Stephen Deans, who was involved in the row over the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk.

Labour cleared Unite after an investigation into allegations of rigging the selection of a party candidate - claims that led to a major row between the union and Ed Miliband.

Mr Deans, who is chairman of both Labour's local constituency party and Unite in Scotland, was suspended by Ineos then reinstated.

Ineos said an investigation by "a third party" into Mr Deans' conduct was due to be completed by 25 October.

It recently launched a survival plan for Grangemouth, warning that the site would close by 2017 without investment and reduced costs. The company said the plant was losing £10m a month.

The Grangemouth refinery provides most of Scotland's fuel. It is owned jointly by Ineos and PetroChina.

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