Wildcat Strikes Over Foreign Workers Spread Across Britain

Wildcat strikes over foreign workers spread across Britain

From Times Online
January 30, 2009

Wildcat strikes spread to power stations across Britain today with more than 2,000 workers at 17 different sites walking out in protest against the use of foreign contractors.

Around 700 staff walked out of the Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland and 400 more staged an unofficial strike at a refinery in Teesside as workers lent their support to a three-day strike at Total's Lindsey oil refinery near Grimsby.

The wave of renegade strikes has also hit power stations including Longannet in Scotland, where 500 mechanical contractors have downed tools. At least 17 sites have seen strike action thus far and talks about further walkouts are ongoing at other installations, including the Sellafield nuclear plant.

Staff at the Lindsey refinery, in Immingham, North Lincolnshire, began their wildcat strike on Wednesday in protest at the arrival of 200 Italian and Portuguese staff who were awarded a large construction contract.

It is thought that the European contractors at the centre of the dispute were told to avoid confrontation by staying inside a large, grey barge accommodating them, which was moored in Grimsby docks. A small band of protesters gathered near the barge today but quickly dispersed.

The British National Party was trying to hijack the unofficial strikes today sending activists to join the picket line as the Unite union, which did not sanction the strikes, attempted to retain its influence over members who are angry that British jobs have been lost to European competitors.

Yesterday was a great day for British nationalism, said a spokesman for the far-right BNP.

As workers addressed a crowd of around 600 outside Lindsey one of the workers shouted: Get the BNP rep up there but he was quickly shouted down.

Bobby Buirds, a regional officer for Unite in Scotland, said that the workers at Grangemouth were striking to protect British jobs, not to confront the foreign workers.

The argument is not against foreign workers, its against foreign companies discriminating against British labour, he said.

This is a fight for work. It is a fight for the right to work in our own country. It is not a racist argument at all.

Hundreds of protesters were calling on the government to intervene to guarantee jobs for British workers. Jambo, a worker at the Longannet power station, travelled from Fife with a friend to show their support for their Lindsey colleagues. If we dont win this fight, there wont be any British engineering construction workers left, he said. A few years ago everyone here was working and foreign workers were only used as a top up so it wasnt an issue. Now work is going short and theyre chosen ahead of British workers. Its not because they have better skills its because theyre cheaper.

Paul Elvin, 49, a scaffolder from Scunthorpe said he was braving the icy morning because my 19-year-old son is sitting unemployed at home while a barge load of Italians have been brought in to meet a supposed shortage that doesnt exist. Ive got three childrens mouths to feed, a mortgage to pay and I lost my job on this site yesterday. Whats Gordon Brown going to do about that?

Some of the protesters carried placards that read: In the wise words of Gordon Brown UK Jobs for British Workers. A Downing Street spokesman was asked whether the Prime Minister now regretted his British jobs for British workers slogan.

I do not see a reason for regret in that the action we have taken has meant that we are now putting in place measures to ensure that British workers can have access to the vacancies that exist in the system, he said.

The dispute at Lindsey centres on the construction of a new unit and is the latest in a series of clashes over the use of foreign labour at major construction sites.

The use of foreign labour directly employed by overseas companies rather than migrant workers based in Britain is fast becoming a critical issue for the unions. Several foreign companies have announced plans recently to bring in their own workforce for large construction projects, as with the Lindsey dispute, or use workers from elsewhere in Europe.

Unions protest that British workers are being undercut by foreign employees who are paid less. But the companies say that it is a question of bringing in the right skills. The GMB says that construction jobs are being advertised in Northern Ireland which specify that Portuguese would be an advantage.

Shona McIsaac, the MP for Cleethorpes, said that the decision to employ foreign workers was like a red rag to a bull for people in our community who are out of work and who have skills that could be used in this construction project.

The wildcat action at the Lindsey oil refinery involves about 600 construction workers building a new desulpherisation plant.

Total, which said that it has always had a good relationship with contractors and staff, is holding talks with the unions, including Unite and the GMB, and the contractors Jacobs and the new sub-contractor, the Italian group Irem.

Total has pledged that the Italian workers for Irem will be paid at UK national rates and will have the same conditions as British counterparts. The oil giant also said that there will be no redundancies in Britain.

The contract won by Irem arose because additional work was needed on the desulphurisation unit. It has been in construction for 18 months and will not be finished until the end of the year.

Unions are expected to intensify demonstrations against contractors using non-local labour as they grow more worried about employment. Next week they will march to Parliament and send a delegation to Downing Street to demand action from the Government, reminding Gordon Brown of his pledge to ensure British jobs for British workers.

Derek Simpson, Unite general secretary, said: We have growing problems in the engineering and construction industry where UK workers are being excluded from important projects. The Government must take urgent action to deal with this situation as tensions are reaching boiling point. The contractors working on large projects like the 2012 Olympics and the construction of new power stations must give UK-based labour a fair chance to work on the projects.

But the British Chambers of Commerce warned that bringing in foreign-based labour was likely to increase. David Frost, director general, said: While I can understand the concerns about jobs, this issue is going to grow and grow because it is global capital and labour and it is not going to go away.

Unions will march on Parliament on Thursday calling for measures to help safeguard existing jobs for British workers amid soaring unemployment.


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Columnist Ian King

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