Petrochemical plant workers walk out over ‘safety fears’

GMB Scotland union said around 100 staff left the site in Fife on Wednesday.

Around 100 workers have walked out of Mossmorran petrochemical plant in Fife over ‘safety fears’.

Union GMB Scotland said the contractors had “continuously raised their concerns” about the conditions at the ExxonMobil site, but have been “ignored”.

However, both ExxonMobil and contractor Bilfinger dispute safety concerns as the reason behind Wednesday’s walkout and instead claim it’s to do with pay.

A GMB Scotland spokesperson said: “Relations between the workforce and management have been deteriorating for some time. 

“Workers have continuously raised their concerns about conditions and safety on-site but have frankly been ignored.

“You can’t operate a major gas terminal this way and it shouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of Exxon and their sub-contractors to ensure workers feel safe and valued.”

In response, a spokesperson for Bilfinger UK said: “Workers employed by a separate contractor at the Fife ethylene plant in Mossmorran staged an unofficial industrial action on Monday, which a number of our employees joined with unofficial sympathy action.

“This action resulted in a dispute over payment for the time our employees had withdrawn their labour.”

Bilfinger said it was working with its employees and trade union Unite to resolve the issue.

The spokesperson added: “There is no dispute relating to working conditions, welfare, redundancy measures and health and safety between Bilfinger employees working at the plant and Bilfinger UK.

“We maintain an open dialogue with our employees and have rigorous health and safety processes in place, with no incidents reported since the contract began in September 2019.

“Our continued focus is on the ongoing success of our operations at the plant, safeguarding the long-term employment of our skilled and experienced workforce.”

Data published by watchdog the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) earlier on Wednesday rated the firm’s environmental compliance at the site as “poor” in 2018.

The plant, which is restarting after closing last August, faced criticism after “intense flaring” at the site last week sparked alarm in the community.

In 2019, the company announced a £140m plan to reduce flaring and improve infrastructure at the plant.

Sepa launched a formal investigation into unplanned flaring last April following hundreds of complaints from local residents about a chemical smell and rumbling noise.

In August, the regulator varied the operating permits for ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited, which share the site, requiring them both to address the impacts of flaring and install noise-reducing flare tips.

Following the walkout, Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell said: “The Mossmorran workers are absolutely right to take a stand.

“Mossmorran is an industrial relic and the frontline of our climate emergency challenge. Not only has the site been causing misery for the local community with unplanned flaring, now we hear staff are concerned about safety.”

The MSP said the community faced an “uncertain future” with “no attempt” to build sustainable alternative jobs in the area.

He added: “The plant must be made fit for a net-zero carbon Scotland or they must plan well ahead for closure.

“If the plant has to shut in the years to come, then discussions about what is next for this community need to start now.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is continuing to monitor the situation closely through regular contact with Sepa and the Health and Safety Executive, who have statutory responsibilities in relation to the plant at Mossmorran.”

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