Unite members in the Ineos oil refinery in Grangemouth have voted by 81% for strikes and by 91% for action short of strikes. The turnout was 86%.
Unite called the ballot, and recommended a “yes” vote, to defend shop stewards’ convenor Stevie Deans, who has been subject to ongoing investigation by senior management since the summer of this year.
Investigations were initially based upon allegations by Labour Party officials that Stevie, who is also chair of the local Labour Party, had been involved in signing up new party members without their knowledge and forging signatures on direct debit forms.
Ed Miliband’s decision to hand over the dossier of allegations to the police provided further ammunition for management to claim that Stevie’s behaviour had undermined the company’s trust and confidence in him.
The initial allegations by Labour officials are now known to be false, and the police found nothing to investigate.
So Ineos is now basing its current investigation — its third investigation — on claims that Stevie misused company time and resources (apparently in order to recruit union members to the Labour Party).
The relevant ACAS Code of Practice states that disciplinary investigations should be carried out “without unreasonable delay.” But Ineos has said that its investigation will not be completed until 18 October, and no decision on possible further action will be made until 25 October.
The high turnout in the ballot and the high levels of support for strike action and action short of a strike reflect the anger among Unite members at management’s treatment of Stevie.
Members have clearly refused to be cowed into submission by management claims that the Grangemouth petrochemical plant might close for financial reasons in 2017, which in turn would result in closure of the refinery.
Nor have members been intimidated by what Unite has termed the “culture of fear” in the workplace, and by subsequent threats of legal action against Unite by Ineos for having used such an expression.
(There is no culture of fear in Grangemouth — and anyone who claims otherwise will be sued?)
The final decision on when to call a strike lies with the shop stewards in the refinery. But it is important that Ineos is not allowed to defuse the momentum gained from the ballot result by allowing investigatory proceedings to drag on.
And any strike action should be officially backed by the Labour Party — especially given the role played by party officials in setting up Stevie for disciplinary proceedings.