Nuclear power workers join wildcat strike action over foreign labourGo To Original
The wave of wildcat strike action that has swept across the UK escalated today as hundreds more workers walked out in the protest against foreign labour.
Contract workers from the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, the Heysham nuclear power station in Lancashire and a site at Staythorpe, in Nottinghamshire, joined the unofficial action over the hiring of Italian and Portuguese workers on a Lincolnshire power station project.
Workers from the Longannet power station in Scotland joined those at the Grangemouth oil refinery, who voted to continue their strike, while 200 employees at Fiddlers Ferry power station in Widnes, Cheshire, also walked out this morning.
In west Wales, up to 500 contractors at the South Hook LNG gas terminal in Milford Haven downed tools for a second day. Many of the strikers took part in a similar protest on Friday. Around 150 contract workers at Aberthaw power station, in south Wales, also walked out.
Outside the Lindsey oil refinery in Killingholme, Lincolnshire, where the protests began, more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered for a mass meeting, voting unanimously to allow union officials to start talks with management.
"Over the last week, your heroic actions here have inspired thousands in our county, hundreds of thousands in our country, and millions across the globe," Kenny Ward, from the Unite union, told the crowd.
"The fight started here at Lindsey: the fight against discrimination, the fight against victimisation and the fight to put bread on your table for your children. Gordon Brown said it is indefensible. If the prime minister will not defend the working man, if parliament will not defend the working man, then the union will defend the working man."
He said "people in Europe" needed to take note, and judges who interpreted the law "to the advantage of the employer" needed to have "a rethink".
Gordon Brown said the unofficial strikes sweeping the country were "counter-productive". Speaking at a joint press conference after talks with the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, Brown said his priority was to promote the jobs of British workers in the face of the current recession.
"I recognise people are concerned about their jobs," he said. The prime minister insisted the government was doing everything it could to ensure fair treatment for UK workers.
The business secretary, Lord Mandelson, denied that UK firms and workers faced discrimination, and called for the unofficial strikes to stop. He said he understood the concerns of British workers but stressed that Total, which runs the Lindsey plant, had rebutted claims that UK workers had been excluded from contracts.
In a statement to the House of Lords this afternoon, Mandelson said it was important to "respect and guarantee" the principle of free movement, which was an "intrinsic part" of membership of the European Union. Around 300,000 British companies operated elsewhere in the EU, he said.
"On the Lindsey site, the great majority of the workers are actually British, so clearly no policy of discrimination or exclusion of British nationals is being operated at the refinery," he said.
Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said Mandelson was "in denial about the nature of the problem" and the Labour party had been aware of the issue for five years.
"The facts are that the manner in which the EU 1996 Posted Workers Directive was applied into UK law in 1999 was botched," he said. "The Labour party recognised this in 2004 and made a manifesto commitment to apply Article 3(8) properly into UK law. That commitment, which was repeated in 2008, has not been honoured."
About 600 mechanical contractors met at the Sellafield site's Yottenfews car park at 7.30am to agree a 24-hour walkout in support of the Lindsey action.
One of the strikers, the GMB convener Willie Doggert, said: "All we want is a level playing field. It's not just about foreign workers. We need jobs to be advertised with transparency so that everybody gets a fair crack of the whip at getting them."
Total said talks would be held today with the conciliation service Acas, senior union representatives and Jacobs, the main contractor at Lindsey.
"We recognise the concerns of contractors but we must stress that it has never been, and never will be, the policy of Total to discriminate against British companies or British workers. We have been a major local employer for 40 years and the majority of our 500 permanent staff are local," the company said.
It said its £200m investment in the site would help to secure the long-term future of the refinery and local employment opportunities.
A small group of protesters gathered about 100 yards from the Forest Pines hotel, near Scunthorpe, where the talks were understood to be taking place. Police were guarding both entrances to the hotel.
Management at Sellafield said the contractors who walked out this morning had been building new storage facilities. A Sellafield Ltd spokesman said there were very few foreign workers employed at the site, and 90% of contractors were from west Cumbria.
A similar row has been raging at Staythorpe for months and several demonstrations have been held to protest that UK workers were being overlooked in favour of foreign staff.
Around 700 contractors at the Grangemouth oil refinery in central Scotland walked out again today after unofficial action on Friday. They decided they would return to work tomorrow.
The wildcat action began after the Italian company IREM won a £200m construction contract and supplied its own permanent workforce. It is understood 100 Italian and Portuguese workers are already on site and 300 more are expected in the coming days and weeks.
Moves are under way to set up a panel under an independent chairman to review the recruitment. Total had put a contract out to tender for the construction project with five UK firms and two European contractors.
On Friday, up to 3,000 workers from at least 11 oil refineries and power plants in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland mounted protests and unofficial strikes over the contract.
Mandelson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that claims that British workers had been excluded from the disputed contract, or that foreign workers were being paid less than the going rate, were unfounded. He conceded few people from Teesside took advantage of work opportunities across Europe, but denied that he was suggesting Britons should "get on their bike" to look for work.
"No one is forcing anyone to travel. There are other jobs being created in the UK economy. What is at stake is the opportunity for the movement of people who, if they wish, can apply for jobs or follow their companies around the European Union."
The shadow business secretary, Kenneth Clarke, condemned the strikes. "I understand people being worried about their jobs; I don't think this is the right way to demonstrate it," he said. "The idea that people think the reaction to these concerns is to start threatening to close down power generation at the time of a cold snap is obviously something we all disapprove of."
A spokesman for the Energy Department said: "We're not aware of any current or potential impact of the unofficial strikes on gas, electricity or fuel supplies."