Hundreds of workers staged a wildcat strike and blocked the road outside a major oil refinery in Scotland in a dispute over pay, as unrest against the cost of living crisis spreads.
Around 250 workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery downed tools on Tuesday and swarmed onto the A904, temporarily blocking it.
Grangemouth is one of six oil refineries in Britain and provides two-thirds of the petrol supplied to Scottish petrol stations. A strike over pensions at the facility in 2008 led to panic buying at petrol stations. In 2013, the Unite trade union faced a humiliating defeat when the boss locked workers out of the plant and threatened to close it down following a controversy over the selection of a Labour party candidate.
The plant is owned and operated by Petroinieos, part of Ineos, the fourth largest chemicals company in the world, which made £31.3bn in sales in 2020.
Workers at the plant are now in a dispute with the Engineering Construction Industry Association (ECIA) over pay. ECIA is the trade body for the UK engineering construction industry, and sets pay for the industry through a national agreement. Workers say that the agreement is not keeping up with inflation.
A pamphlet handed out to members of the public on Wednesday’s protest said, “We deserve a decent pay rise”.
The pamphlet said that workers accepted a pay freeze “to help the employers and to keep the industry moving during lockdown”. They will now receive a 2.5% raise in January and 2.5% again next year. “Due to extraordinary events beyond our control, inflation is currently running at 11.8% […] It is predicted to hit between 13% and 15% by next January, giving us a real terms pay cut of at least 10%.
“Some of us worked through the pandemic to keep the country running, some of us were made redundant,” it says.
“Now we are asking the ECIA to come back to the negotiating table because of these once in a lifetime events, which have caused spiralling inflation. So far, they have point blank refused. We cannot allow this cavalier attitude to continue.
“Clients are making record profits. Inflation at a 40 year high. Profits before people.”
The protest follows other wildcat strikes across the country, along with an increase in official strike action as resistance to the cost of living crisis grows. Last week, wildcat strikes broke out at Amazon warehouses over a below-inflation pay offer. In July, non-unionised workers at a food company in Bury, Greater Manchester staged a walkout, demanding higher pay and “proper breaks”.
A spokesperson for Ineos said: “We can confirm that a number of contractors, employed by third parties took unofficial industrial action at the Ineos Grangemouth site as part of a nationwide protest event. Our manufacturing and fuel distribution operations were unaffected.
“The site has a very good working relationship with the contracting companies and their employees at Grangemouth including those operating under the NAECI agreement. We are disappointed that the protestors have chosen to use the Ineos Grangemouth site as one of their backdrops for their unofficial action today.”
The ECIA has been approached for comment.
Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.