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Unite dispute at INEOS, Grangemouth: what’s it all about?

12th October 2013

Unite dispute at INEOS, Grangemouth: what’s it all about?

Readers may have read about the victimisation of the Senior Shop Steward at Grangemouth because he has been involved in the selection process for the Labour Party candidate for the Falkirk constituency. What the hell is that to do with INEOS management? This account by local Shop Stewards shows that it’s all part of a provocation by Jim Ratcliffe to seek a confrontation with the work force and its union, Unite.
By Unite Shop Stewards Committee

The billionaire owner of INEOS, Jim Ratcliffe is a ‘high-stakes’ operator. He has loaded the business with debt, retreated to tax havens. He is intent on conflict with his own workforce and to this end is victimising Unite Shop Steward, Stevie Deans. We now believe that Jim Ratcliffe wants a strike – whatever the cost. Ordinary workers are being attacked by powerful people intent only on destroying their Union.

Why is Unite in dispute with INEOS and owner Jim Ratcliffe? We believe INEOS boss Jim Ratcliffe wants to break Unite that represents the workforce at Grangemouth. He has decided to use a political sideshow to attack and target Senior Unite Shop Steward Stevie Deans. The workforce has voted overwhelmingly to back Stevie, including withdrawing their labour, if Ratcliffe does not stop bullying and victimising their Shop Steward.

How is Stevie Deans being victimised? Stevie Deans has been a loyal INEOS employee for 24 years. He has never before been suspended or faced investigation into his activities as a worker or Unite representative.

Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing by both the Labour Party and the Police, Jim Ratcliffe believes that Stevie Deans should face the sack for being involved in the selection process for the
next Labour Party candidate for Falkirk. It is clear that this is a premeditated attack to provoke the Union into taking strike action.

On July 17th, INEOS suspended Stevie; his personal laptop was confiscated, his suspension broadcast to all employees and he was barred from all activity as a pension trustee. This is in clear contravention of the collective agreement. On July 24th,following Unite intervention, Stevie was reinstated.

In mid-August, Unite representatives received details of company plans that appear to show Jim Ratcliffe is preparing for a strike in November. This despite Stevie being reinstated.

On August 26th, site management make it clear that Jim Ratcliffe has ordered them to intensify their investigations into Stevie.

October 1st, Jim Ratcliffe threatens to cut jobs, pay and pensions in a direct attempt to strike fear into the workforce. Is Jim Ratcliffe employing Union busters? Media Zoo, the PR firm employed by INEOS, has a by-line in defending companies in “crisis” due to “child labour” or “fatal accidents”. They also proclaim to “win employee support” and “help smooth difficult change”. It looks as though they are currently promoting the victimisation of trade unionists.

Has Unite acted responsibly? Yes, Unite has repeatedly told the company that the victimising of StevieDeans would not be accepted by the workforce and made numerous requests that they step back from the brink of a destructive dispute.

The company was given two months to stop the victimising of Stevie before our members were
balloted for industrial action. Jim Ratcliffe’s attempts to “goad” the Union into strike action have also been rebuffed despite extreme provocation and threats made by the company.
We believe Jim Ratcliffe is motivated by wanting to break the Union and strike fear into the workforce. The victimising of Stevie Deans is, we believe, part of a plan to go to “war” with the Union - whatever the cost. We believe he wants a strike, believing that this would provide the perfect opportunity to vilify the Union and attack his own workforce.

Are employee costs the problem at INEOS Grangemouth? According to Morgan Stanley the labour costs involved in producing Petrochemicals in Western Europe are small. “As in ethane-based plants, labor is a small cost at just $9 per ton (1.3% of net cost)” Morgan Stanley Research, Petrochemicals, October 18th, 2010. Also, the company’s own accounts – those that are actually available as opposed to those that have been filed in tax havens – show the chemicals division of Grangemouth to be profitable:

2011: INEOS Grangemouth Chemicals made an operating profit of £31 million
2012: INEOS Grangemouth Chemicals made an operating profit of £49 million.

Jim Ratcliffe’s threat to workers terms and conditions is an act of aggression not necessity.
INEOS wants Government investment - do they pay tax in Britain? No publically available evidence
can be found to show INEOS has paid any tax in the UK since2008, despite operating facilities generating billions.

Jim Ratcliffe moved the INEOS global headquarters from the UK to Switzerland in2010, purely to save over £100 million per year in tax. INEOS now operates in at least five known tax havens; Switzerland, Luxembourg, Jersey, Bermuda and Singapore. Despite this Jim Ratcliffe continues to demand millions in Government investment.

What does this dispute mean for INEOS lenders, suppliers and customers? Unite will not allow Jim Ratcliffe and INEOS to target and sack Shop Steward Stevie Deans – a man who has been cleared of all wrongdoing by the relevant authorities. If INEOS continue to threaten Unite members the Union will be left with no option than to enter into what will be a long and bitter struggle. This will have serious implications for all those associated with INEOS:

Lenders will witness significant damage to a business in which they are invested North Sea oil and gas companies will be seriously impacted.

Customers reliant on fuel for vehicles or chemicals for manufacturing could see prices rise and supply reduced.

What would a strike mean for UK PLC?A long protracted dispute could prove to be the costliest strike in British history.

We ask Jim Ratcliffe: does he care about the cost to Britain or does he just want to destroy the Union – whatever the cost?

What does Unite want? All investigations and threats of dismissal against Shop Steward Stevie Deans to be dropped. A sensible timetable for talks on the future of Grangemouth to be agreed.

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