Conditions at Mossmorran chemical plant criticised as workers walk out

Around 100 workers at a Fife chemical plant have walked out over an issue with conditions at the site.

ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran plant, which is restarting after closing last August, sparked alarm with “intense flaring” last Thursday which could be seen for miles.

Many residents took to social media to complain about the flares which prompted questions over the safety of the plant near Cowdenbeath.

Mossmorran flaring
The flaring at Mossmorran sparked concern from local residents (Darren Watt/PA)

The GMB Scotland union said workers, understood to be mainly Bilfinger contractors, walked out of Mossmorran on Wednesday with concerns about the conditions.

A spokesman 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 subcontractors to ensure workers feel safe and valued.”

Bilfinger UK however claim their staff joined the dispute of “workers employed by a separate contractor”.

A spokesman for the company told the PA news agency their issue is over the pay of their workers who took part in Monday’s demonstration – and only for that period of “unofficial industrial action”.

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“This action resulted in a dispute over payment for the time our employees had withdrawn their labour.

“We are now working closely with our employees and the trade union, Unite, to quickly resolve this dispute.

“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.”

In response, Unite regional industrial officer Bob MacGregor said: “Unite has just become aware of the situation involving a number of contract workers at the Mossmorran ExxonMobil site.

“Clearly there are significant issues which has resulted in a number of workers walking off the site, which the company needs to resolve.”

We are aware that staff employed by @BilfingerUK are taking unofficial action following a disagreement we understand to be over pay. We work closely with all contracting companies working on site, and hope that the parties involved can find an amicable resolution.

— exxonmobil_fep (@exxonmobil_fep) February 19, 2020

A tweet from ExxonMobil on Wednesday afternoon added: “We are aware that staff employed by @BilfingerUK are taking unofficial action following a disagreement we understand to be over pay.

“We work closely with all contracting companies working on site, and hope that the parties involved can find an amicable resolution.”

The firm previously said last week’s flaring was part of work to restart operations at the ethylene plant which closed last August for maintenance work.

In September 2019 the company announced a £140 million plan to reduce such occurrences and improve infrastructure at the plant.

That came after the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) launched a formal investigation into unplanned flaring at the plant last April following hundreds of complaints from local residents about a chemical smell and rumbling noise.

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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