WORKERS at an oil refinery set to close with the loss of hundreds of jobs feel “let down” by the Government, unions said.
Unite said its members at the Coryton site in Essex also felt they had been “led down the garden path” by administrators.
Workers staged a protest yesterday outside the energy department in London, before a meeting between union officials, Energy Minister Charles Hendry and local politicians.
Linda McCulloch national officer for Unite, said last night: “The workers at Coryton feel as though they have been led down the garden path by the administrators and let down by the Government who continue to sit on their hands and refuse to offer state aid.
“These are skilled workers who have worked tirelessly to keep the refinery going and make it one of the most efficient in Europe. It is short sighted to throw hard working people on the dole. It makes no economic sense in the medium to long term and will undermine the UK’s refining capacity.”
Speaking yesterday, Essex MEP Richard Howitt, said: “I fully understand the anger of the Coryton workers protesting today and join them in condemning the inaction of this Government.
“The first redundancies announced earlier this week are a bitter blow for the workers of Coryton and their families who have worked so hard since the New Year to help the plant to operate at peak efficiency until a new buyer was found.
“The failure to find a buyer for the refinery is lamentable given the high level of initial interest and the success elsewhere in Europe of selling off the other bankrupt Petroplus plants.
“And the real failure is that of the Government - whilst the French immediately put in state aid to support their refinery in trouble, the British Government has not even formally consulted the European Commission about the option of state support.
“No wonder everyone at Coryton feels so let down.
“I hope a last minute rescue is possible as no one wants to see these jobs lost and the refining capacity lost to the UK.
“Coryton is a highly regarded refinery operation and it would be a sad day to see the plant used solely as a storage facility.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Hendry said: “From the outset of this process, we have worked tirelessly with the administrator to find a way to secure a successful outcome for Coryton and to safeguard local jobs.
“It is extremely disappointing that the administrators have not found a buyer for the refinery, despite their strong efforts. Unfortunately considerable additional investment is needed to keep the refinery operating efficiently, and this has meant that potential bidders have been faced with high upfront investments to make in the order of some hundreds of millions.”
UK refineries faced tough competition from other refineries in Europe and Asia, Mr Hendry said.
“We looked long and hard at whether or not state aid should be provided for Coryton. But we came to the conclusion that the existing overcapacity in the refining industry and declining demand for petrol means that it would not be sustainable.”
He added: “We realise this is a really worrying time for those who work at the refinery in Coryton, for their families and their communities more generally. We will be doing whatever we can to support people through this difficult period.