Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 16:10 UK

Acas talks over refinery dispute

Grangemouth plant
Plant workers at Grangemouth are due to walk out for 48 hours

Talks aimed at resolving a dispute which could shut down Grangemouth oil refinery are being held at the conciliation service Acas.

Officials from the Unite union are meeting bosses from Ineos in London in a bid to head off a two-day stoppage.

Up to 1,200 workers plan to strike from Sunday over plans to end the final salary pension scheme for new workers.

The company has begun shutting down the refinery, which processes 210,000 barrels of oil a day, over the issue.

Production is expected to be hit as the first of the crude oil units is closed in a phased shutdown of the refinery, one of only nine in the UK.

David Watt, of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, warned of the damage a strike could cause the economy.

David Watt
The truth is that these employees have done well so far and they will not find much sympathy when the public find out that they earn large wages
David Watt
Institute of Directors in Scotland

He told BBC Scotland's news website: "I understand that they [Grangemouth workers] currently receive non-contributory fixed salary pensions, which are virtually unheard of in the private sector these days."

The plant supplies the whole of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England.

The impact of the dispute has prompted sporadic panic buying of fuel by some motorists, although the supermarkets have moved to calm fears of a shortage.

Asda said there would be little impact on their fuel supplies as their fuel is not sourced from the Grangemouth refinery.

'Sensible approach'

A spokesman for Tesco said it was closely monitoring the situation.

He said: "While there has been a pick-up in trade over the past couple of days we believe our customers are taking a sensible approach and there is certainly no need for fuel stockpiling."

REGIONAL BREAKDOWN
North of Scotland: Tesco in Inverurie has said it has been struggling to keep up with demand
Highlands and Islands: There were longer than normal queues at garages in Inverness
Glasgow and the West: One garage in Wishaw has already run out of diesel
Tayside and Central: Some petrol stations are fuel rationing
South of Scotland: At least one Borders garage is considering fuel rationing
Edinburgh and East:Linlithgow's only petrol station was closed on Monday night after its pumps dried up

Ineos said earlier it had made a number of concessions to the union which represented a "significant improvement" on its initial proposals.

Chief executive Tom Crotty said: "The proposed new scheme for existing workers will continue to be amongst the most generous in the country."

Ineos said it was planning to delay the introduction of contributions from the workers to the pension scheme so that these were phased in at 1% a year over six years from April next year.

The initial proposal was 2% a year for three years.

The company said it was also improving proposals for redundancy payments and making a number of other changes.

But Unite said there was nothing new in the company's statement.

Governments on both sides of the border have urged the two sides to continue negotiations in a bid to avert the strike.

Business Secretary John Hutton said the UK Government had started putting contingency plans into place to deal with the strike adding that if the action went ahead ministers would do everything in their power to minimise disruption.

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Talks aimed at ending a dispute which could shut down a Scottish oil plant are held at conciliation service Acas.

The Scottish Government offered to bring in an independent expert to carry out a study into the management changes.

Stewart Ritchie, formerly of the Association of British Insurers and the National Association of Pension Funds, would conduct the study into the pension plans to clarify the issues which are in dispute.

Mr Watt said that the non-contributory pensions of the Grangemouth workers were "unrealistic and unsustainable" and he added that it was "no wonder" Ineos was asking staff to contribute a small percentage of their salaries to their pensions.

"The truth is that these employees have done well so far and they will not find much sympathy when the public find out that they earn large wages and enjoy gold-plated pensions denied to so many Scots," he added.


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