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Strikes against foreign workers continue

Latest update : 2009-02-03

Wildcats strikes at nuclear sites and oil refineries continue across Britain. Short-term-contracted British employees are protesting against the use of around 100 Italian and Portuguese contractors for a building project at the Lindsey refinery.

AFP - Wildcat strikes against foreign workers resumed on Monday at energy plants across Britain, fuelled by fears of rising job cuts amid the global slowdown.

At least 600 contractors at the Sellafield and Heysham nuclear facilities in northwest England were among the latest wave of workers to join protests which first flared last week. Managers insist safety and production will not be hit.

They and others came out against the use of around 100 Italian and Portuguese contractors on a 200 million pound (222 million euro, 286 million dollar) building project at the Lindsey oil refinery, owned by French oil giant Total, at Immingham in eastern England.

The action has yet to hit energy supplies but with much of Britain battling through the worst snowfall in 20 years, the action has stirred memories of the 1978-79 "winter of discontent", when industrial action crippled everything from rubbish collection to grave digging.

The strikes have been condemned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, despite a previous pledge by him to provide "British jobs for British workers" in 2007.

"I recognise that people are worried about their jobs at the moment and I want them and their colleagues to be treated fairly," he said Monday.

"But I don't believe that strike action will be anything other than counterproductive".

European Union law enshrines the right to freedom of movement of workers among the 27 member states, which includes Britain.

Unemployment in Britain has risen sharply in recent months amid the global economic downturn -- two million people are jobless and the unemployment rate is 6.1 percent.

Hundreds of workers at a handful of facilites around Britain, including around 500 at the giant Milford Haven gas terminal, took part in the strikes Monday.

Some 1,000 workers gathered at Lindsey, where the dispute arose.

Keith Gibson of the Unite trade union told the crowd: "I think there should be a call for industrial action right around this country to make the government aware of how we feel and how we're not prepared to let this industry go to the dogs."

Unite's joint leader Derek Simpson said the current flexible labour market was a "one-way street that only benefits the employers".

"The problem is not workers from other European countries working in the UK, nor is it about foreign contractors winning contracts in the UK," he said.

"The problem is that employers are excluding UK workers from even applying for work on these contracts."

Total, Lindsey's operators, insists it does not discriminate against British workers and says most of its permanent staff are local.

Talks between the union, employers and mediators are taking place Monday in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Date created : 2009-02-03