Fife MSP Mark Ruskell has offered support to workers who have staged a walkout at the Mossmorran gas plant in Fife.

He said around 100 agency staff have taken unofficial action at the Fife Ethylene Plant over health and safety concerns and working conditions, including concerns over the recent "apocalyptic" flaring, which caused light pollution across Fife and Edinburgh.

It's been reported that the walkout is restricted to employees of Bilfinger, a German company that specialises in civil and industrial construction and engineering services.

Mr Ruskell, Mid Scotland and Fife MSP for the Scottish Greens, said: “The Mossmorran workers are absolutely right to take a stand.

"This comes on a day when SEPA, which monitors the risk of pollution or environmental damage, has rated the site ‘poor’.

“Mossmorran is an industrial relic and the frontline of our climate emergency challenge.

"Not only has the site been causing misery for the local community with unplanned flaring, now we hear staff are concerned about safety."

A GMB Scotland spokesperson said: “Relations between the workforce and management have been deteriorating for some time. 

“Workers have continuously raised their concerns about conditions and safety on-site but have frankly been ignored.

“You can’t operate a major gas terminal this way and it shouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of Exxon and their sub-contractors to ensure workers feel safe and valued.”

Last week ExxonMobil issued a public apology after “fluctuations” with their elevated flare.

The plant is in the middle of a re-start after it was shut down in August when two out of three boilers failed. 

The flames from the plant were visible from as far away as Dundee and Edinburgh, and prompted local activists to call a town hall meeting in Lochgelly for this Friday, which the company said they wouldn't attend.

Mr Ruskell added: "This community faces an uncertain future, with no attempt to build sustainable alternative jobs in the area.

“Neither ministers or operators have engaged enough with this community. The plant must be made fit for a net-zero carbon Scotland or they must plan well ahead for closure.

"If the plant has to shut in the years to come, then discussions about what is next for this community need to start now.”

James Glen, chair of Mossmorran Action Group, said: ”How can communities have confidence that Mossmorran is safe when 100 workers have staged a walk-out in part over health and safety concerns at the ethylene plant?

"On the day when SEPA gives Exxon a poor rating on its 2018 performance, workers take industrial action over safety concerns and the operator responsible announces it will boycott a public meeting with regulators for a third time, it is hugely disappointing that Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham says she is too busy to come to Lochgelly on Friday meeting to attend the same public meeting."

ExxonMobil said the walkout was an issue for their third party contractor, Bilfinger, to comment on. 

They added that this has "no impact on our plant resourcing".

Cowdenbeath MSP Annabelle Ewing said: "I understand that the walkout of 100 employees from ExxonMobil’s Mossmorran plant is in relation to health and safety issues as well as concerns about pay and redundancy selection procedures and it is a very worrying sign indeed that all is not well at the plant.

“Most of the recent debate surrounding Mossmorran has been about the impact on the local community but this walkout makes it very clear indeed that there is a big question mark over the running of the plant from the inside as well as from without.

"I have contacted ExxonMobil, looking for clarification on what is going on. 

"I have also written to the chief of the Health and Safety Executive expressing my concern and seeking assurances about the condition of the plant from a health and safety perspective.

“When workers’ fears over conditions and safety on a site such as this reach such a level that they feel pushed to walk out of the door, then we should all be very concerned indeed.”

Earlier today, a SEPA report on Scottish business environmental compliance said that more than 5,000 licences were assessed in 2018 and that "poor performance at complex industrial sites continued to impact local communities".

For their operation of the plant at Mossmorran, ExxonMobil was one of 282 companies rated as 'poor' with the environmental watchdog saying they were working to "address the root causes of 'unacceptable' flaring".  

The company have said they will invest £140 million in improvement works at the plant and are committed to timescales for new ground flares, which will significantly address impacts from flaring. 

ExxonMobil and neighbours Shell UK were both issued with final warning letters from SEPA in 2018 over unplanned flaring, the burning of excess or waste gas, at their sites. 

A spokesperson for Bilfinger UK, said:“Workers employed by a separate contractor at the Fife Ethylene Plant in Mossmorran staged an unofficial industrial action on Monday, which a number of our employees joined with unofficial sympathy action. This action resulted in a dispute over payment for the time our employees had withdrawn their labour.

“We are now working closely with our employees and the trade union, Unite, to quickly resolve this dispute.

“There is no dispute relating to working conditions, welfare, redundancy measures and health and safety between Bilfinger employees working at the plant and Bilfinger UK. We maintain an open dialogue with our employees and have rigorous health and safety processes in place, with no incidents reported since the contract began in September 2019.

“Our continued focus is on the ongoing success of our operations at the plant, safeguarding the long-term employment of our skilled and experienced workforce.”