52% intelligent. 9% modest. More monkey than bear.

Monday, April 28, 2008

quench my thirst with gasoline...

Having looked at the queues on the forecourts of pretty much every petril petrol station I drove past on Thursday evening, I cast a slightly anxious look at my own quarter-full tank and decided to fill up on Friday morning. Like tens of thousands of other British drivers, I brought forward my decision to refuel by a couple of days as a result of a fear of shortages. Just like all those other drivers, my decision only helped to contribute to the shortage and to fuel the growing panic, as did the media coverage of the queues. As it happens, my local petrol station didn't have a queue when I pulled up the next morning, and I was able to fill up without any problems (even if my 20 litres cost me well over £20), but you never know, do you? The official message is that there is no reason to panic and that there is plenty of fuel - the very fact that there is an official message at all is driving people to the pumps.

The reason for all of this? A strike at the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland. Grangemouth is not only the gateway to the North Sea oil fields (via the Forties pipeline, which carries about 1/3 of the UK's daily oil output), but it is also a deep water port that receives crude oil from around the world for processing. Is the strike catastrophic? Not really, it only really supplies Scotland anyway, and besides, oil arrives in the UK elsewhere too, and there are also apparently about 70 days worth of fuel stockpiled across the country.

And yet here we are, with queues at petrol stations.

I was going to go on at some length about this; about how this shows what sheep we all are; how - for all that hot air about carbon footprints - we're still terrifyingly dependent on fossil fuels; about how, like the floods last year, this reminds me how just how close our wonderful society is to the stone ages... about 70 days for fuel, but far less than that for things like bread and milk. If we get like this over a slight flutter over fuel, can you imagine the panic if supermarket shelves started emptying and not just their forecourts?

I was going to talk about all these things, but then I learned what the strike is about: apparently these workers are out on strike over proposed changes to their pension scheme. It seems that everyone working up there is currently on a final salary pension scheme. Not only that, but at the moment they don't pay a penny for it as all of their contributions are paid by their employer. Pensions have been much in the news over the last few years, and there have been several high profile schemes collapsing. Final salary pensions are rare enough, but a scheme that you don't even have to pay anything into yourself? Well..... rare as rocking horse shit, I would think. Not surprisingly, given the current financial climate, their employer is worried that the scheme is not sustainable in the long term and wants make some changes - to close the final salary scheme to new members and to begin to phase in some employee contributions. I've been through consultations like this that affected my pension, and clearly no one is going to voluntarily give up a scheme as good as that (indeed, 97% of Grangemouth's employees voted to go out on strike against the proposals, so they're not giving it up without a fight). But really, how realistic are they being? Isn't it in everybody's best interests that a pension scheme is properly funded? Surely a scheme as good as that is no bloody use to anyone if it implodes before you get to benefit from it?

And meanwhile we're queuing on garage forecourts. What planet are these people from?

....And don't even get me started on teachers striking for a 5% pay increase (linked to the retail price index)..... Times are hard and most people in the private sector will be lucky to get any kind of a payrise at all this year. And many of them work all year round....


Speaking of cars, I was reminded of quite how little control we sometimes have over own destiny on the roads when I was driving down the A46 to Leicester on Saturday afternoon. I was travelling at a reasonable lick, and pulled out into the outside lane to allow something big and slow-moving to join the road from the slip-lane. At about the same moment as I did that, the car behind this slow-moving vehicle decided that this was the ideal time to shoot out across both lanes to try and overtake. The driver either did not see me or had seriously underestimated my speed. Either way, the result of her manouevre was that she pulled out right in front of me, forcing me to slam on the brakes and fight for control of my car as my momentum and my natural desire not to hit the back end of her car forced me towards the central reservation.

I ground to a halt with a screech of brakes and a touch of tyre smoke but thankfully without hitting anything. I let out a huge sigh of relief that all of the BMW technology in my little car had prevented my brakes locking out too badly and had almost certainly prevented a collision. After a moment's contemplation, I sounded the horn, but to be honest I wasn't so much angry with this idiot as relieved that I was still alive. After that escape, even the souped up Nova full of silly boys on the M69 barely even registered.

Sometimes you realise just how slender the thread that holds us here is.

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  • At 9:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ...hates self, hates self! why Cheezoid exist?

  • At 11:42 pm, Blogger ian said…

    So what you're saying is that these workers had terms of employment which included a decent pension as part of their package, (a package which pays less than contemporaries at other companies) should accept changes to that package without protest?

    The move to employee contributions is effectively a wage cut.

    You're not seriously telling me that the third largest chemical company in the world, or its multi-billionaire owner are short of cash? Ineos made £300M profit last year alone... Surely that could fund a decent pension for the 1200 Grangemouth workers?

  • At 5:11 am, Blogger monogodo said…

    (even if my 20 litres cost me well over £20)
    I just did the conversion to US$ to gallon.

    I had heard that the US enjoyed some of the cheapest gas prices in the world. I just filled up the tank of our New Beetle the other day. 13.2 gallons cost us $51. Your fuel price works out to be about $7.60/gallon. I paid $3.81/gallon.

  • At 8:00 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    the pension fund isn't just supporting 1200 people though, is it Ian? It has to support all previous employees too, and it has to have enough funding to remain viable into the future. It also won't be being governed just by the billionaire owners, and they won't have the keys to that fund money... there are laws against that kind of thing, and the fund will be scrutineered independently. Final salary pensions are now rare because they generate a huge liability. A final salary pension that is fully contributed? Even greater liabilities.

    Don't forget that the oil will run out one day.

    I'm not saying that they shouldn't protest, I'm just interested in the fact that their (I think unrealistic protest) has such an effect on our lives. When my pension was changed, I had nothing like that sort of power.


  • At 8:55 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why are they striking though?

    They are on phenomenally high wages.

  • At 9:32 am, Blogger swisslet said…

    they're striking over the possibility that:

    a) the final salary pension scheme will not be made available to new joins (i.e. closed to all but existing members)

    b) The possibility that they will have to start paying contributions to their own pension. Currently (and very unusually) their company pays all of their contributions for them.

    They're not striking over their salaries at all. And I should imagine that even a poorly paid oil worker is better off than a well paid teacher.


  • At 3:55 pm, Blogger ian said…

    xIf I had the power to bring the country to a grinding halt and panic with a 24 hour strike, and someone tried to cut my wages, which is what this change in contributions is in effect, I'd strike too. Given that they haven't striked (Struck?) before, and the strike was supported by 97% of workers, this is hardly the action of militant extremists.

    These aren't offshore oil workers, they're workers at a chemical plant. I would think their salaries are somewhat different, due to the risks involved.

    The billionaire owners of Ineos could quite easily fund the pension fund in perpetuity from the small change in their pockets.

  • At 4:35 pm, Blogger Rol said…

    I'm constantly surprised that more people don't die on the motorway every day. People drive like idiots. It's just frightening.

  • At 10:30 pm, Blogger LB said…

    Going to hang out with Billy Bragg at the Leftfield in Glastonbury this year, mate? I'd maybe leave your attitude to the teachers strike at home....


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