Page last updated at 11:07 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 12:07 UK

Oil refinery talks as strike ends

John Hutton, Gordon Grant (Ineos) and John Swinney. Pic by PA
John Hutton and John Swinney visited the Ineos plant to meet staff

Talks are set to take place between the Grangemouth oil refinery management and striking workers as staff return to the plant after a 48-hour walk-out.

The industrial action disrupted fuel supplies and halted much of the UK's North Sea oil production.

It is expected to be at least a week before the plant is fully operational again after 1,200 workers walked out.

However, the Unite union has said it is hopeful that the informal talks in London could lead to a resolution.

The union's joint general secretary Tony Woodley is expected to sit down with Ineos owner Jim Ratcliffe at a secret location early on Tuesday afternoon.

Unite had warned the dispute over pension changes at the Ineos plant could lead to more industrial action.

Ineos calls for unions to return to the negotiation table

UK Business Secretary John Hutton and Scotland's Finance Secretary John Swinney have visited the Grangemouth plant to urge Ineos bosses and union officials to work towards resolving the dispute.

Pickets left the gates of the refinery after the strike ended at 0600 BST, with the first shift returning to work at 0700 BST.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Gordon Brown held talks with Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond at the House of Commons.

A Downing Street spokesman said they had discussed the steps being taken to resolve the industrial dispute.

The meeting came as oil prices hit a record high of almost $120 (60) a barrel and Opec, the oil producing cartel, warned prices could keep rising to $200.

There is a gap between the two sides that has got to be bridged - only the two parties themselves can reach an agreement
John Hutton
Business Secretary

Meanwhile, the UK's two largest oil companies, Shell and BP, have delivered their latest financial results amid record petrol prices at the pumps.

Shell reported first quarter profits of $7.7bn (3.92bn) for the three months to 31 March, while BP posted $6.59bn (3.32bn) first quarter figures, a rise of 48% from $4.4bn.

The Grangemouth strike, which began on Sunday, halted almost half the UK's North Sea oil production when a key pipeline powered by the plant was closed.

BBC Scotland correspondent Colin Blane said it would have cost the economy 50m a day.

He said the unions were considering whether to give notice of another possible strike as the deadlock over pensions had not been broken.

Mr Hutton and Mr Swinney, however, are encouraging the two sides to work together to ensure production at the refinery is back up to capacity as quickly as possible.

Mr Hutton is also set to hold talks with representatives from the oil and gas industries as well as members of the Scottish Government.

Grangemouth worker on strike
The two-day walkout came amid a row over pensions

Speaking at Grangemouth, Mr Hutton said: "I'm glad that the union said that there should be a pause for reflection and I'm very glad that later today there will be discussions between the unions and the company to try and find a way of resolving this dispute.

"There is a gap between the two sides that has got to be bridged - only the two parties themselves can reach an agreement.

"No-one can do that for them. But I hope there is now a mood to try and reach an agreement."

Mr Swinney said it was now incumbent on those at the centre of the dispute to work together.

He added: "What the two governments will be encouraging is a process of dispute resolution between the two parties, that they focus on those essential differences and work to resolve them and to avoid any possibility of further strike action."

The Scottish Government is shipping about 65,000 tonnes of fuel, mostly diesel, from Europe to bolster supplies.




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