Real fears over petrol shortages surfaced when Ineos announced it would continue with the costly shutdown of its Grangemouth plant.
The petrochemical giant said it was going ahead with the process, begun in preparation for proposed industrial action, despite union Unite calling off the strike it had scheduled for the weekend.
Speaking at the plant yesterday site manager Gordon Grant said safety was the main reason Ineos was continuing the shut-down, which could end up costing the reportedly cash-strapped company millions of pounds.
He said: “While the union has removed the threat of strike this weekend, the reality is they still have the mandate to do so.
“They will not give us a guarantee they will not strike so we have to face the real possibility that this could happen.
“We are dealing with a massive industrial operation here and the time of highest risk at the plant is when it is starting up or shutting down. Multiple stop/starts are a risk we are just not prepared to take.
“We could have done without this situation at this particular time. We are a distressed business facing cost pressures and the action by Unite has inflicted significant further damage.”
He added Ineos would put a proposal regarding the future survival of the petrochemical site direct to employees today (Thursday) and expected a response from them on Monday.
The decision to continue the shutdown at Ineos propelled the dispute between the company and the union to a new low.
Scheduled to run from 7 a.m. on Sunday, the proposed strike at the Grangemouth plant was averted when Unite, responding to Ineos representatives walking out of talks for the second time in two days, pulled the plug on the industrial action.
However, Ineos said fears for the safety of the plant forced them to continue with the shutdown, leading Unite to accuse them of “economic vandalism” and “holding Scotland to ransom”.
Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “There is absolutely no reason for the site to remain shut. Unite acted in the national interest by calling off the strike because Ineos had no right to initiate a cold shutdown - a shutdown against the wishes of the Health and Safety Executive, and against the economic interests of the country.
“Unite believe this is reckless behaviour.”
Ineos said it had agreed to restart the plant as soon as possible provided the union agreed not to take further industrial action before the end of March, but Unite refused.
This week’s meetings were intended to find a way to resolve the dispute over Stephen Deans, an employee representative on the site, and to prevent the strike.
Unite claimed Mr Deans had been treated unfairly by management, but the company stated the union had agreed to drop the dispute before talks broke down again after Ineos chairman Jim Ratcliffe supposedly instructed management representatives to demand an apology from the union.
Reportedly in dire financial straits, Ineos claimed it wanted to end the dispute so it could start securing the long-term future of the petrochemical site which it claims has lost £576 million over the last four years and is losing £10 million a month.