Hundreds of refinery workers down tools over safety concerns in Fife

Mossmorran ethylene plant by night (image credit: rongorongo, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license)

Unite claims ExxonMobil and contractors failing in ‘legal duty’ to protect and pay workers

Around 200 members of Unite the union had withdrawn their labour over health and safety concerns at ExxonMobil’s petrochemical plant in Mossmorran, the union reported on 17 August.

Unite said workers downed tools on Tuesday (15 August) over health and safety warning signals and procedures not being in full working operation across the plant and the workforce not being informed of this, or any procedures put in place to protect them.

The trade union said it had received reports from workers citing repeated examples over a year that alarm systems are not working in areas at the petrochemical plant and workers not being notified. This is legally required in the event of any leakages, blasts or exposure to hazardous materials and chemicals at the plant.

Unite’s members had therefore withdrawn their labour under the terms of UK legislation, Employment Rights Act 1996 Section 44 and 100. The legislation states that workers have the ‘right’ to withdraw from, and to refuse to return to a workplace that is unsafe, without being subject to any detriment including the loss of wages.

“ExxonMobil and the contractors are to date, refusing to pay the workers following the withdrawal of labour under the legislation’s terms.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Unite will robustly defend the legal right of our members to withdraw their labour over health and safety concerns at ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran plant. It is completely unacceptable that the company and the various contractors on site are refusing to pay our members their wages. This is a legal duty and not open to interpretation. Our members will be receiving their union’s unflinching support.”

Unite’s members at ExxonMobil’s plant are employed on construction engineering maintenance contracts and they are split between different contractors at the plant: Altrad, Bilfinger, and Kaefer.

The trade union was further calling on the Health and Safety Executive to immediately investigate. There have been various recorded incidents at the plant over safety, the risk of pollution and environmental damage.

Bob MacGregor, Unite industrial officer, added: “Unite’s members working for Altrad, Bilfinger, and Kaefer at the Mossmorran plant are rightly furious at potentially being exposed to dangerous chemicals due to failings in the plant’s safety procedures.”

“To add insult to injury, ExxonMobil and the contractors are refusing to pay the wages of the workers following the withdrawal of labour on health and safety grounds. This is not an isolated incident, these safety breaches and failings have been ongoing for around a year and nothing to date has been resolved.”

“That’s why Unite is calling for the Health and Safety Executive to urgently intervene due to the seriousness of the claims, and the chequered history of the plant.”