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Unite said that around 200 members of staff downed tools at the Fife plant on Tuesday over health and safety fears. However, ExxonMobil disputed the figure and said it was around half of that, representing “a minority of the workforce”.
The union claims warning signals and procedures were not in full operation across the plant.
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According to the union the workforce was not informed of this, nor were any procedures put in place to protect them.
Workers have reported repeated examples over the past year of alarm systems not being in working order in areas of the plant, the union said. Workers had not been notified about the status of the alarms, it added.
The union is now calling on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to investigate the claims.
HSE said it is now making “enquires with the site operator”.
Workers must be legally notified of any alarm failure in the event of any leakages, blasts or exposure to hazardous materials and chemicals at the plant.
The workers have “withdrawn their labour under the Employment Rights Act 1996 sections 44 and 100”, the union said.
The legislation allows workers to have the right to withdraw from, and refuse to return to, an unsafe workplace without losing any wages.
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However, according to the union, ExxonMobil and other contractors on site have refused to pay workers following their walkout.
“Unite will robustly defend the legal right of our members to withdraw their labour over health and safety concerns at ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran plant,” Sharon Graham (below), Unite the general secretary said.
“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 members at Mossmorran are employed on construction engineering maintenance contracts split between three different contractors at the plant – Altrad, Bilfinger, and Kaefer.
They have now called on HSE to launch an investigation after “various recorded incidents at the plant over safety”.
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“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,” Bob MacGregor, Unite industrial officer, added.
“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.”
Mark Ruskell (below), Scottish Greens MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife who has published a report calling for a just transition for workers at the site, said: “Exxon-Mobil should hang their heads in shame that workers have been forced into taking strike action to protect their safety.
“Mossmorran has had a worrying record on both safety and environmental compliance with both HSE and SEPA stepping in to take legal action in recent years.
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“HSE must step up again and urgently investigate these latest concerns. It’s time for the plant operators to invest in safety and de-carbonisation work rather than paying out vast shareholder dividends.
“Workers must be at the heart of plans for a just transition at Mossmorran, they cannot be an afterthought.”
An ExxonMobil spokesperson said: “We are aware of unofficial action instigated by a small number of individuals employed by contracting companies on our site.
“There is no impact on our operations, which continue as normal.
“Fife Ethylene Plant operates in full compliance with approved site safety standards and procedures.”
The firm claimed that the individuals involved in the action attended the site on Thursday and remained there all day.
A HSE spokesperson said: “We are aware of safety-related concerns being raised by union and employee representatives onsite. We are now making enquiries with the site operator.”
We previously told how local residents were proved right after raising concerns over the health and environmental impact of flaring at the plant.