How could this have happened at Grangemouth?

A rally organised by Unite
A rally organised by Unite

It took less than a month for the idea of closure at Ineos to turn from mere speculation to shocking reality.

As summer gave way to autumn, rumours were rife about things at the petrochemical site even before the firm’s owner went public about its claimed dire financial status.

This provoked increasing unrest from union Unite which was, at the same time, seeking a resolution to the company’s perceived mistreatment of a colleague.

Now, as winter approaches, over a thousand jobs could be gone as the firm announces it is closing the petrochemicals complex. The future of the refinery side of the business is also in the balance, with Ineos stating it will take a decision in due course.

However many industry experts have stated that if the petrochemical site closes then the chances are the refinery will also go.

Things started to spiral downward at the start of September when it was reported Unite members were unhappy with management over a range of issues. Most prominent was the alleged victimisation of union member Stephen Deans, but there were also concerns over proposed changes to pensions and rumblings about the long-term future of the site.

Ineos founder Jim Ratcliffe went public later that month, stating the site at Grangemouth was in jeopardy. Unite said they had been trying to hold talks on this for months.

Unite called it “a shocking and misguided attempt to cause fear and uncertainty” and accused Mr Ratcliffe of “scaremongering”, calling for the firm to come forward with hard facts.

Later in the month Ineos Grangemouth chairman Calum Maclean said the petrochemical site would close in 2017 if drastic action was not taken. Mr Maclean said: “The plant has to become more cost effective. Over the last three years the whole site has been losing around £150 million annually and that is forecast to continue.”

The company’s answer was a survival plan that required cash injections of £150 million from the Scottish and UK governments, as well as major changes to the workers’ pay and condition, It revealed the pension scheme was £200 million in the red.

With Unite and local MP Michael Connarty questioning the company’s figures, there were widespread claims the company was trying to ‘blackmail’ both governments and the workforce.

A vote by Unite members to strike for 48 hours from October 10, despite Ineos claiming any action at this time would further damage the plant’s future, led to talks at conciliation service ACAS. But relations between union and management deteriorated further. The firm walked out of discussions on two occasions despite Unite agreeing to call off its planned strike and give a no-strike guarantee until the end of the year.

Unite said it was stunned when the company ordered a ‘cold’ shutdown of the site.

The plant now offline, Ineos went directly to its workforce, urging them to support its survival plan and change their pensions, pay and conditions. Earlier this week 65 per cent of Unite members - about half the workforce, rejected the plan.

Ineos’ shareholders met on Tuesday, with workers given the news the next day that they had backed closure.

The next few days are going to vital for the future of Ineos, Grangemouth and the wider Falkirk area.