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Shell’s plans to slash maintenance staff at Mossmorran would put lives at risk warns union

Fife NGL Plant at Mossmorran.
Fife NGL Plant at Mossmorran.

Plans to slash maintenance staff at the troubled Mossmorran complex in Fife would critically compromise its safety, union officials have warned.

Trade union Unite said it understood Shell was intending to axe 63 out of 77 contractor jobs at the Fife NGL Plant and that this could put lives at risk.

But Shell has disputed the union’s claims of an 80% cut in “vital maintenance” jobs, insisting the safety of its plants was “paramount” and would not be compromised.

Posts under threat are said to include scaffold inspectors and supervisors, riggers and rigging supervisors, forklift drivers, general assistants and mechanical supervisors.

Potential redundancies at Shell’s Northern Systems and Plants operations, which also include the St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead, come at a time when Mossmorran is under intense scrutiny following repeated bouts of flaring from the neighbouring Fife Ethylene Plant, which is operated by ExxonMobil.

According to Shell, the number of workers from contractor Kaefer across Mossmorran and St Fergus would be reduced by 15, while the company’s core maintenance team, comprising staff and contractors, would be reduced from 125 to 110.

The company said additional contractor workers would be brought in when required to carry out future maintenance projects.

But Unite industrial officer Bob MacGregor said: “Unite is deeply concerned that the level of cuts being proposed by Shell at the Mossmorran plant in Fife will result in potentially critical health and safety concerns.

“There are a number of ongoing issues at the plant which we have worked hard to resolve with the companies involved on site.

“However, these proposals are of such a brutal nature that we are being informed by local union representatives this could impair the condition and maintenance of the installations.

“We call on Shell to step back and reengage with Unite to find alternative solutions because lives are at risk here.”

Unite said it had been in consultation with contractor Kaefer for weeks to stave off compulsory redundancies being enforced by the oil giant.

At St Fergus, the union said 46 out of 52 jobs could be lost and it warned that fire and safety responses to any major incidents at both plants could be severely impacted.

Vic Fraser of Unite said some trades would be “totally wiped out” at St Fergus.

“It is not that there is no work to be carried out here, there is, but rather Shell have decided that the fabric and maintenance work on site will be paused perhaps until 2022,” he said.

“We are always told safety comes first but our members are not only concerned for their livelihoods but fear for colleagues left to work there, the local community and any environmental impact a potential incident on site could have.”

The Shell spokesperson said: “We do not recognise these figures, as the planned reduction in our core maintenance team is 12%. Other reductions are due to seasonal projects that have already been completed.

“The safety of our plants, our teams and our communities is paramount and will not be compromised. Maintenance will be done at the right time by the right specialists. They will now be contracted for specific projects, rather than being based at the plants full time.

“At this time of economic uncertainty, we know that this news will be very difficult for contractor colleagues whose jobs may be impacted as a result.”

Alex Rowley, Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, said he would be writing to Shell and the Unite union in relation to the looming job cuts.

“Communities around Mossmorran are living in fear,” he said.

“Communities are terrified of Mossmorran, where there are serious question marks over the safety of both sites within the plant.

“To lose all these jobs would I think add to these concerns and you have to ask yourself, what future does that plant have?”

Mark Ruskell MSP, the Scottish Greens’ energy spokesperson, said: “This shocking decision to cut maintenance staff by Shell comes despite clear warnings about health and safety implications from the workers themselves.

“I will write to the Health and Safety Executive on behalf of these workers for urgent clarification of the implications of these job cuts.

“If the sites have ongoing issues but the company still wants to dramatically slash its staff, there are serious questions about its long-term commitment to these installations.”

The most recent bout of flaring at Mossmorran earlier this month resulted in more than 700 complaints to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).

The watchdog said it was “frustrated by the frequency of flaring” and was investigating to determine if ExxonMobil had breached permit conditions.