Union leaders are on the brink of backing down over proposals to freeze wages and cut pensions at Grangemouth in a late bid to save 800 workers from losing their jobs.

Unite is said to be willing to accept the changes put forward by the site's owners Ineos in the bitter dispute at the petro-chemical refinery, which has led to the shock announcement of the plant's closure. Ineos announced the closure after Monday's rejection by the workforce of the new terms. However, Unite could now agree to the "survival plan." A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday between the two sides in the dispute where the union is expected to present its proposals. The move is being described as a 'last ditch' attempt to save Grangemouth.

Unite had said about 680 of the site's 1,370-strong workforce had rejected the company's proposals, which include a pay freeze for 2014-16, removal of a bonus up to 2016, a reduced shift allowance and ending of the final salary pension scheme.

Ineos said owner Jim Ratcliffe and other shareholders met yesterday to study the response from the workforce to their survival plan, and wanted the employees to be the first to know of any decision the company makes.

As well as the 800 workers at the petrochemical site, hundreds more are employed as sub-contractors.

Unite has accused the company of playing "Russian roulette" with the future of Grangemouth, the biggest industrial site in Scotland, and is backing any efforts by the Scottish Government to find a new buyer for the oil refinery and petrochemical complex.

The union said around 680 of the site's 1,370-strong workforce had rejected the company's proposals, which include a pay freeze for 2014-16, removal of a bonus up to 2016, a reduced shift allowance and ending of the final salary pension scheme.

Ineos sent a letter to workers last Thursday asking them to indicate their rejection or acceptance of the plan.

It said those who supported the survival plan would receive a transitional payment of up to £15,000.

The two sides have been embroiled in a bitter dispute for weeks, initially over the treatment of Unite convenor Stephen Deans, who was involved in the row over the selection of a Labour candidate in Falkirk, where he is chairman of the constituency party.

He was suspended, then reinstated, and is facing an internal investigation, which is due to report on Friday.

The dispute has since widened to the future of the entire site, with Ineos warning that it will close without fresh investment and changes to pensions and other terms and conditions.

The company said the plant, which has been shut down since last week because of the dispute, is losing £10 million a month.

Ineos had said it was ready to invest £300 million in Grangemouth, but only if workers agree to the new terms and conditions.

Mr Ratcliffe, the founder and chairman of Ineos, one of the world's largest chemicals manufacturers, said at the weekend that the fate of the Grangemouth plant rested with its staff.

"This is not a bluff. The clock is ticking," he said. "Grangemouth could have a future but that is absolutely in the hands of the workers. If we go down the wrong road, then I'm afraid this story will not have a happy ending."

Ineos said that following the breakdown of talks at the conciliation service Acas last week and Unite's "refusal" to provide a no strike guarantee, the company decided to approach workers direct.

"Employees were asked to support the changes necessary to save the business. Management held direct meetings with all employees to explain the very serious nature of the problem.

"The company made it clear that rejection of change would result in closure. Regrettably, the union advised union members to reject any form of change.

"The outcome of the employee vote on the company's survival plan was a 50/50 split.

"Within this, almost all of the administrative staff voted for the company's plan but a large majority of shop floor employees voted to reject it.

"The shareholders met yesterday to consider the future of the business following the result of the employee vote.

"Sadly, the shareholders reached the conclusion that they could not see a future for Grangemouth without change and therefore could no longer continue to fund the business," said a statement.

Mr MacLean said: "This is a hugely sad day for everyone at Grangemouth. We have tried our hardest to convince employees of the need for change but unsuccessfully. There was only ever going to be one outcome to this story if nothing changed and we continued to lose money."

The company added: "As a result of this decision, the directors of the petrochemicals business have had no option but to engage the services of a liquidator. It is anticipated that a liquidation process will commence in a week."

The firm said a decision on whether to restart production at the oil refinery will depend on the removal of the threat of further industrial action.

Mr MacLean added: "We still struggle to comprehend what has happened here. The employees were offered a chance to secure substantial new investment in the company, preserve their jobs and keep their salaries. Sadly this will no longer be the case."

AA president Edmund King said: "This closure is a major blow for the workers involved, local employment and indeed the fuel supply chain.

"The AA is concerned with the impact of this refinery closure. The European commodity trading houses have been predicting the loss of five to six refinery plants over the next two years.

"In March/April of last year, with the closure of refineries and the impending start of the US motoring season, wholesale prices went up by 20%, adding 8p to 10p to a litre of petrol. The spike was short-lived because US drivers cut back and some of the refineries were bought. However, the damage was done and a new UK petrol record (142.48p a litre) was set.

"Let us hope this decision can be reversed."


One worker, who did not want to be named, said: "I feel sick. It's gone.

"There's no livelihoods left and we don't even know if we're going to get redundancy out of it. I hope they're happy with themselves."

The worker, who appeared close to tears at points, said he could only listen to about 10 minutes of the meeting, before he felt he had to leave.

He went on: "There are folk in there have a husband and wife work here. That's it. Folk will be lucky if they have a house at Christmas."

On the impact of the move on Grangemouth, he said: "It's gubbed (ruined). Everything, burger vans, everything's gone."

The Unite union's Scottish secretary, Pat Rafferty, said: "Unite and our members at Grangemouth are devastated by the announcement this morning of the closure of the petrochemical plant. It has confirmed our fears that this was the intention of Ineos all along.

"Discussions have taken place with the company this morning and will continue over the course of the day. We have made further proposals in a last-ditch effort to stave off these catastrophic job losses which we believe is tantamount to economic and industrial vandalism.

"Make no mistake - one man is holding this workforce and this country to ransom and that man is the Ineos owner, Jim Ratcliffe.

"Unite cannot do any more. The ball is now in the court of Jim Ratcliffe and the respective Governments in Edinburgh and Westminster and we await their responses. "