The bully-boy antics of INEOS is further proof that real and drastic reform is needed in our energy sector.
The disgraceful behaviour of Swiss tax exile and INEOS owner, Jim Ratcliffe, has signalled a need for significant and immediate change at the Grangemouth refinery in Falkirk. Their decision to punish workers for not accepting savage cuts to pay and conditions is nothing more that corporate intimidation, which will result in over 800 jobs being lost. Closing the Petrochemical plant at the Grangemouth refinery will destroy the economy of a local community where most have a family connection to the plant. Many fear that, despite Government reassurances, that they will be now thrown on the scrapheap.
The scandal at INEOS reached the mainstream media when Stevie Deans, the lead shop steward at the plant, was suspended by INEOS pending an investigation into his trade union and political activities in relation to the Unite/Labour Falkirk fiasco earlier this year. INEOS smelled blood and saw an opportunity to weaken the unionised workforce at the plant. After Unite and Mr Deans workmates intervened INEOS back down and reinstated Mr Deans. Subsequently Mr Deans have been cleared of any wrong-doing by the police and the Labour Party.
INEOS made a profit of £2B. . As an outsider looking in, the financial future appears stable. Sales went up by 50%, turnover increased by 20% and while operating profits rose by a massive 56%.
Following on from the incident with Stevie Deans, INEOS announced that the only way that the plant could be commercially viable was by implementing a 'survival plan' including a pay freeze for 2014-16, removal of a bonus up to 2016, a reduced shift allowance and ending of the final salary pension scheme. This was a 'take it or leave it' offer and it was only after persuasion by the Westminster Government that INEOS entered into negotiations with ACAS and Unite The Union.
As it became clear that the majority of the workforce would not accept the new pay and conditions packages, INEOS walked away from negotiations and, as a dire warning to the workforce, closed the refinery. On Wednesday morning they announced that they would permanently close the Petrochemical plant with the rest of the refinery sure to follow.
The company's objective from the beginning was to break the unionised workforce at Grangemouth refinery so that they could increase profits. This contempt and disregard is reflective of most (if not all) other aspects of our energy sector. Rampant and under-regulated forms of capitalism which leaves customers feeling conned, leaves the workforce dejected and seriously harms the UK's economy. Bloated with public subsidies, these companies cry 'free market' while guzzling on the teat of the State.
It was extremely short-sighted to allow this essential part of our national infrastructure to be in private hands in the first place. The Scottish Government is now scouring the globe for a new owner of the Grangemouth refinery yet the answer may well be right in front of their noses. Let it be owned by the people of this country? Not just state owned but publicly-owned so that the public has not only a stake in the refinery but also control. Why shouldn't the local community in Grangemouth have a say in the business decisions of the plan? Aren't they, the local community and workers within the plant, best placed to understand the complexity of how to run a refinery that will benefit the millions rather than shareholders and CEOs?
Some say that the capitalistic model that is used by the UK's energy sector is broken, always doomed to fail. They say that simple reform is not enough while people are unable to afford to keep themselves warm. They say that it is not acceptable that millionaires are getting rich while the rest of us struggle. They say that change is a must and I agree. From the scandalously high prices in the energy market to the bully-boy antics of INEOS, it is clear for all to see that the true home of the energy sector is not in the private sector.
Like bankers before them, energy marketeers acted recklessly with a national asset. Providing a service became secondary to making a profit and this is simply not acceptable. We cannot allow energy companies to cajole and blackmail our nation and that is why we need to renationalise.