Hopes of an end to the Grangemouth oil refinery dispute rose last night after a proposal was drawn up to break a deadlocked row over pensions.
The move followed peace talks between leaders of the Unite union and bosses from Ineos, which owns the giant refinery in Scotland.
Ineos chief Jim Ratcliffe took part in the meeting, held within hours of the end of a 48-hour strike by 1,200 workers, which led to the closure of Grangemouth.
A brief joint statement said: “A meeting was held in London today between Jim Ratcliffe and Tom Crotty of Ineos and the joint general secretaries of Unite, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley.
“It was a constructive and meaningful discussion and ended in a proposal that will be considered by the company and the union in the coming days with a view to finding a resolution to the pensions dispute.”
The Grangemouth complex was last night returning to production after the strike, which was held in protest at the planned closure of Ineos’s final salary pension scheme to new workers.
First Minister Alex Salmond welcomed the joint statement from Ineos and Unite that a resolution to the dispute may be on the cards.
“I am very pleased that both sides have listened to the advice of both governments in Edinburgh and Westminster and indeed the wider Scottish community in engaging in meaningful discussion,” he said.
“Hopefully this will pave the way for a resolution to the dispute in the coming days.” John Hutton, secretary for business, enterprise and regulatory reform, visited the refinery yesterday to support talks between employer Ineos and the Unite union.
He also took the opportunity to visit the Scottish Government in Edinburgh and hold brief talks with Mr Salmond. On the steps of St Andrew’s House, Mr Hutton said he was unaware Ineos had threatened that further unrest could see investment and jobs transferred to Belgium or Germany.
Mr Hutton described the “constructive and meaningful talks” as a “positive development”. He said: “We need to avoid any further disruption to fuel supplies in Scotland and I’m greatly encouraged that both sides have agreed to further talks.”
Mr Salmond said it was a hugely positive step that both sides were beginning to address the underlying issue behind the dispute.
“We are in a much better place than we were a few days ago, and let’s hope that positive progress continues,” he said.
Mr Hutton denied that Labour’s pension policy had contributed to the dispute, claiming that increased longevity was putting pressure on final salary pension schemes around the world.
“I think it is quite wrong to say that this dispute had its origins in changes to the tax regime that took place 10 years ago – that isn’t the case,” he said.
It emerged Scottish Government officials had looked at the theoretical impact of disruption to fuel supplies just before the dispute.
Mr Salmond said: “Two days before the industrial action, the contingency room here was looking at a range of things that can happen.
“One of them actually was fuel disruption at Grangemouth – not with any intelligence that this dispute was about to happen but just because that, along with a range of other contingencies, is one of the things that are planned for.”
The situation at Grangemouth dominated yesterday’s Scottish cabinet meeting where Finance and Sustainable Growth Secretary John Swinney updated them on the latest situation.
Ministers were told that a “flotilla” of sea-going tankers were in the process of delivering 65,000 tonnes of fuel to Grangemouth.
BP anticipates that in the 24 hours up until 6am this morning 450 road tankers movements will have left Grangemouth to restock forecourts.
The shortages occurred after several days of motorists rushing to fill up their tanks.