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Union 'to embrace' survival plan
Workers walk through the Grangemouth oil refinery in Falkirk, Scotland, following a meeting where owners Ineos have decided to shut down the petrochemical side of the complex
The union at the centre of the Grangemouth crisis has decided to "embrace" a survival plan aimed at preventing the site's closure and the loss of thousands of jobs.
Unite's leader said the union was working to persuade owners Ineos to reverse its shock decision to close the petrochemical complex.
The development followed a meeting at the site between general secretary Len McCluskey and union shop stewards.
Mr McCluskey said the shop stewards had decided they had to embrace the survival plan, "warts and all", in the wake of the closure decision.
Workers at the petrochemical site, and adjoining oil refinery, had refused to sign up to the plan, which included a pay freeze, ending of the final salary pension scheme, and other changes to terms and conditions.
Mr McCluskey said: "We are not going to let this plant close. W e are encouraged by the comments of the First Minister that he too will not let this plant close.
"We have a situation whereby a company has put down an ultimatum and we have to respond. It is not how we engage in modern day industrial relations.
"My union is engaged with thousands of companies every day to negotiate plans to save jobs. There is nothing humiliating about negotiating plans to ensure jobs and communities are safe.
"This plant is on cold shut down and each day that goes by makes it harder to start back up again, which is why the stewards made the offer to the company - so that we can get people back to work."
Unite said it had made a number of recommendations to owner Ineos, which yesterday announced the closure of the petrochemical plant with the loss of 800 jobs and potentially 2,000 more among contractors.
The company insisted yesterday it had no alternative but to close the business after it failed to persuade its staff to accept a survival plan, saying that white-collar workers such as admin staff had backed the plan, but workers represented by Unite had rejected it.
Politicians have urged the two sides to resume talks to prevent the closure, while efforts are expected to be made to find a potential buyer.
Ineos said it had been losing £10 million a month at Grangemouth.
Tom Crotty, a director of Ineos, said the company would put Unite's proposals to shareholders if there was a "very significant" change from the union.
He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "The management team on the site will listen to hear what Unite has said.
"If they believe there are substantive differences in where we are now then clearly they have a duty to take that back to the shareholders.
"The shareholders met after the vote on Monday and, quite understandably in my opinion, took a view that if the workforce had rejected that £300 million investment, then how were they going to go ahead and make it if the workforce were not behind that? That is why the closure announcement has been made.
"If the management team feel that there is a very significant change then I'm sure they would probably feel they would need to take that back to the shareholders and have further discussions."
Finance Secretary John Swinney told the programme: "I hope that at this very, very, very late stage in the process there is a willingness to listen to and to consider the proposals being put forward.
"Everybody is agreed that this plant has a strong future with the necessary investment and that is why the Scottish Government is wiling to be a player in that.
"We are now in a position at the very late stage of having the opportunity to have a discussion about some of the substantive issues that will affect the financial future of the plant and I hope that discussion this morning is constructive and successful."
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael will be in Grangemouth later to hold talks on the future of the petrochemical plant with Ineos as well as Unite. The Scottish Government will also attend.
Mr Carmichael will also meet representatives from Falkirk Council, the local Chamber of Commerce and a number of local businesses to listen to their views and address concerns on the situation at the plant.
Ineos is expected to wait until further meetings are held later today involving politicians before responding to the latest development.
A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is keen that they are back round the table talking. Clearly, we want both sides to continue with those talks and come to a solution if possible.
"Grangemouth is clearly of vital importance to the Scottish economy and the Prime Minister is keen that those discussions continue and hopefully they can find a solution."
Asked whether Mr Cameron might make a personal intervention in the dispute, the spokesman told a daily media briefing: "The Government in Westminster is working very closely with the Scottish Government, and the Prime Minister is clearly in charge of the Westminster Government."
Mr McCluskey has told the company he wants to meet owner Jim Ratcliffe for face-to-face discussions.
The union leader said this would be an opportunity for him to "clarify" Unite's position and for Mr Ratcliffe to raise the assurances he is seeking.
Mr McCluskey is also due to meet First Minister Alex Salmond and Finance Minister John Swinney later today.
Speaking during a visit to online clothing company Asos's warehouse in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, Mr Cameron said he was keen for a resolution between both sides.
"I welcome the fact that the trade unions and the business are working together to seek a solution," he said.
"This is an important business for Scotland, it's a very important industry for the whole of the United Kingdom. We want to see those jobs saved, we want to see this business thrive, and I'm hopeful that agreements will be reached."
Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had discussed the crisis with Unite.
"I have spoken to them, and I think they fully understand the gravity of this situation," he said.
"They want to represent their members, and rightly so, and they're concerned about their members' jobs and livelihoods.
"I have a concern about that but also making sure that we have proper energy supplies for this country. That's why it's a national asset."
He added: " I think we've seen very significant movement on the union side, rightly calling off the industrial action - the strike - and now looking like they're open to changes on the terms and conditions.
"Now that is a matter for them but I think that is encouraging because I want to see this dispute settled, I want to see those jobs saved.
"I think that's what the union wants to see, and I hope that's what the employer wants to see."
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said: " I welcome unreservedly this morning's announcement from Unite and that the two parties have resumed talks.
"Government wants to see a long-term future for the 800 jobs at the petrochemical plant, which is so crucial for the workforce, the communities the plant supports and the wider Scottish economy.
"As we make progress towards a resolution, I now urge both sides to work together in good faith to ensure that this long-term future is secured."
Mr Swinney later arrived at Grangemouth for separate talks with Unite and Ineos.
He said: "It's important that every effort is made to secure the continuation of the operation of the plant.
"I'm greatly encouraged by the moves that have been made this morning by Unite and I look forward to continuing those discussions and to work with the company and the union to seek a resolution.
"It's in the interests of Scotland, it's in the interests of the Grangemouth economy and, most importantly, it's in the interests of the workforce of the plant who we are determined to work with together to resolve these issues."