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ICI agrees huge severance deals for Scottish workers

ICI, Britain's biggest chemical company, is offering a group of industrial workers one of the most generous severance packages in recent history.

Employees made redundant at one of the group's Scottish plants who move into lower paid work will have their wages enhanced by up to 25 per cent for two years.

Employees within two years of ICI's early retirement age of 50 will be "kept on the books" - even if it means they are paid to do nothing - so that they can qualify for a company pension. It is envisaged that most of them will be seconded to other firms, but ICI will guarantee a full pensionable wage.

Union officials will seek to emulate the package elsewhere and other companies will come under pressure to match it.

Fred Higgs, a national official with the Transport and General Workers' Union, described the deal as "uniquely beneficial". He said the relative generosity of the agreement reflected the fact that the plant at Cargenbridge in Dumfries, which makes polypropylene, was remote from job opportunities.

The few jobs on offer locally paid far less than the average pounds 20,000 a year the 200 workers earned. He said, however, that the union would be looking for similar agreements where there were ICI plant closures and where unemployment was high.

The shutdown of the Dumfries works is part of the chemical giant's strategy of moving away from lower margin bulk chemicals to specialise in more profitable sectors such as coatings and speciality chemicals.

The company has already sold its Melinex plant in the Dumfries area, which employs 600, to DuPont. It was followed by the disposal of the more modern of its two polypropylene plants at Cargenbridge, to UCB of Belgium.

The polypropylene works which is being closed was loss-making and it is the first plant where the ICI reorganisation has caused compulsory redundancies. Some 85 of the employees were transferred to UCB where pay and conditions will be protected for at least four years and where a mirror-image of the ICI pension scheme has been established.

All staff have been promised that no one will be forced to leave ICI employment until the end of the year and that no one will receive less than pounds 10,000 in pay-offs.

Mr Higgs, who negotiated the package, said it demonstrated that where there was a will on both sides it was possible to design a deal to suit local needs. "No one is entirely happy with the deal because they were hoping to work for ICI until they retired, but we had to acknowledge that the site was making losses."