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‘Reckless and destabilising’

Ineos threatens to tear up Unite agreements
David Eyre, Friday, April 7th, 2017

Unite the union says controversial energy firm Ineos is being ‘reckless and ‘destabilising’ over pay talks for workers at its plants in Grangemouth.


The company – owned by billionaire tax-avoider Jim Ratcliffe – has given notice that it wants to tear up legal bargaining agreements with Unite the union.


The move comes after workers voted to reject a company pay offer. Unite members have had a three-year pay freeze at Grangemouth, losing around 6.25 per cent of their wages in real terms.


In negotiations, Unite was seeking a pay rise of 3.25 per cent. The company offered a 2.8 per cent increase for newer grades of staff and 1.4 per cent, with a 1.4 per cent lump sum, for staff with longer service.


The pay offer was unanimously rejected by workers in consultative votes, and Unite had requested that Ineos move the discussions to a higher level of management, in line with the existing recognition agreement.


But instead of negotiating further, Ineos now says it wants to end union agreements in the chemical and infrastructure sections of the Grangemouth plants. Workers at the Petroineos oil refinery are not affected.


“Ineos is basically saying ‘It’s my ball and I don’t want to play’,” said Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty. “That might be understandable from a moody schoolkid in a playground, but from a company with a responsibility for vital national assets – and to its workforce and their families – it’s reckless and destabilising.”


Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett added, “After three years without a pay rise there is bound to be difficult negotiations, but Unite’s demand for a 3.25 per cent rise is more than reasonable and our intention remains to achieve a negotiated agreement. We would encourage Ineos to think again and to row back from what is an unnecessary act of aggression towards their own workforce.


“Discussions continue in a meaningful and respectful manner with Petroineos and will resume next week.”


Unite has pledged to resist all attempts to strip workers of union representation on their jobs, pay, terms and conditions – up to and including using the law to force the company to respect the outcome of an independent ballot.


“This is an incredibly foolish attempt to undermine the democratic rights of Grangemouth workers, so that Ineos can be free to squeeze every last bit of profit out of their jobs, wages, and conditions,” Rafferty noted.


“If there’s to be reasonable balance and fairness in the workplace, Ineos needs to recognise that workers have a right to a collective, democratic voice through their union. Employers can’t just go ahead and do what they like without consultation and negotiation.


“If Ineos doesn’t change its mind, we will simply go through the normal legal procedures, and push for an independent ballot of workers.


“When that happens, we are confident of the outcome,” he added. “Workers know that the only effective way they can protect themselves is to stand strong and united in a democratic union that works for them.”


Unite was involved in two major disputes with Ineos over the treatment of workers at the Grangemouth petrochemical refinery in 2008 and 2013. During the second dispute, Jim Ratcliffe threatened to close the facility forever.


Just this week, Unite warned that Ineos’s purchase of BP’s Forties oil pipeline risked handing massive power and influence to the company, and called for inquiries into the sale at both Westminster and Holyrood.


“For this to come at a time when Ineos are trying to persuade the BP workforce that their Unite recognition agreement is secure with Ineos is incredible and no doubt workers in BP will reach their own conclusions,” Rafferty said.


“Ineos thinks the BP sale has given them massive power to influence government – they’ve already been caught lobbying the former Tory Chancellor for new laws to put further chains on worker rights.


“But we are confident that every politician and every right-thinking person in Scotland will oppose this attack on Unite members. We’ll be contacting Economy secretary Keith Brown to discuss the situation, and underlining the fact that the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Convention says workers should have a real say in the workplace.”


Last month, a new book written by former Unite convenor Mark Lyon was published detailing the industrial disputes between workers and Ineos in 2008 and 2013. Find out more and how you can get a copy here.


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