Grangemouth Q&A: can the petrochemical plant be saved?
Union offers glimmer of hope after company announced that 800 people would lose their jobs
Hopes are rising that a deal can be reached to save the Grangemouth petrochemical plant after talks between the Unite union and Ineos, the plant's owners.
The closure of the petrochemical works was announced on Wednesday, putting 800 employees under threat of redundancy, but there is now hope that the decision might be reversed. Unite has said that it will "embrace" a survival plan that will result in lower pay and smaller pensions for workers at the plant. Ineos is expected to respond after meeting with local politicians.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: "I'm optimistic that we will have a positive response from Ineos in the next 24 hours."
Why is the plant so significant?
Together with its neighbouring oil refinery, the plant makes up one of Scotland's largest industrial sites. The complex employs more than 1,300 people, as well as many more contractors. The plant uses by-products from the refinery to manufacture a range of products, from plastics to pharmaceuticals. The owner, Ineos, has previously warned that if the plant closed, then the neighbouring refinery – which provides most of the fuel to Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland – could also follow suit. The Government has, however, said there is no current threat of fuel shortages in Scotland because of contingency planning.
Why was the plant forced to close?
The petrochemical 'feedstock' used to create its products was becoming too expensive. As part of a 'survival plan' the company hoped to reduce costs by importing cheaper ethane from the US. However, this required an initial investment of around £300m. To stay open, the firm said it therefore needed to make big cuts in costs within the complex, which meant reforming its employees' pay and pensions. In a separate row, the employees' union, Unite, threatened to strike two weeks ago over the treatment of one of its officials. The strike was dropped but the company shut down the plant and issued the proposed 'survival plan' to workers. This was rejected by union members and the closure of the plant was announced yesterday.
What are the Scottish newspapers saying?
Michael Kelly in The Scotsman says Unite has "a lot to answer for" and questions why the union refused to take the threat of closure more seriously. Meanwhile, several newspapers carry images of Grangemouth employees shocked or shedding a tear at the announcement."This is a bleak time for the workers of Grangemouth," says the Daily Record. "They need politicians to row hard for them, to pursue all the options."
What has changed overnight?
Unite union leaders are meeting with management today and BBC News says it believes they are willing to make concessions to save the plant. Ineos has consequently said it could reverse Wednesday's decision to close if they can reach a compromise. This would please many of the workers who yesterday told reporters they were "very, very disappointed and upset".
What next for the plant?
Unite, along with Scottish and Westminster politicians, are hopeful that Ineos will reverse its decision. If not, it is possible that the plant could be bought out. Ineos claims there is no realistic prospect of future profit but a liquidator could seek a buyer. The Scottish government has not ruled out the possibility of taking over the plant itself, with First Minister Alex Salmond saying he is "not accepting" that Grangemouth is going to close. ·