Page last updated at 23:32 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 00:32 UK

Refinery dispute talks adjourned


Protests continue at Lindsey oil refinery

Talks with contractors aimed at ending the bitter dispute over the sacking of 647 workers at Lindsey oil refinery have been adjourned until Thursday.

Union leaders are demanding the staff are reinstated and want guarantees that those who have taken part in sympathy strikes would not be victimised.

Total, owner of the North Lincolnshire site, is at the meeting to observe.

Some 3,000 workers at construction sites round the UK have walked out in support of the sacked workers.

The Lindsey workers first withdrew their labour on 11 June in protest at a sub-contractor axing 51 jobs while another employer on the site was hiring people.

1. Longannet power station Fife, Scotland - 150 walk out
2. Cockenzie power station East Lothian
3. Sellafield Cumbria
4. Ensus refinery Teesside
5. Eggborough Near Goole, East Yorkshire
6. Drax power station North Yorkshire
7. Stanlow oil refinery Ellesmere Port, Cheshire - 500 people strike
8. South Hook and Dragon LNG terminals Milford Haven
9. Aberthaw West of Cardiff - 300 people
10. Didcot A power station Oxfordshire - 60 workers
11. Coryton refinery Essex - 200 walk out

Just over a week later, Total announced that 647 construction workers had been sacked for taking part in unofficial strikes.

Since then, walkouts have taken place at Lindsey and at other sites around the UK in sympathy with the sacked workers.

On Tuesday, about 1,000 men demonstrated at the gates of the oil refinery, waving placards saying "Total injustice" and "say no to the death of the construction industry".

The first meeting of unions and management since the sackings began at 1600 BST on Tuesday in London.

As he arrived for the talks, Phil Davies, national officer of the GMB union, said: "I have a clear mandate that we want all 647 workers reinstated, the 51 redundancies taken off the table and an assurance that there will be no intimidation or victimisation of the activists."

It is understood a sub-contractor company called Jacobs, Total and officials from the Unite union and the GMB are at the talks.

Another sub-contractor Shaw was also expected to attend.

The attendance of Total, confirmed only hours before the start of the meeting, marks a turnaround.

Previously it had said that talks could only take place if the striking workers returned to their jobs.

A Total spokesman said: "Total will not be actively involved in the meeting but will be present in an observatory manner."

Earlier, Les Bayliss, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: "We're confident that we can find a mechanism to get a return to work, but... I've made it clear from Unite's position that top of that agenda is the reinstatement of the people that have been sacked.

"So unless that issue is dealt with then we're going to have a continued problem."

Project future

The sacked workers had been employed on a project known as HDS-3 to build a new site alongside the existing Lindsey plant.

Total fears the unofficial strikes have set the project back by months and as a result will cost an extra 100 million euros (£85m).

There have also been concerns that the row could jeopardise the long-term future of the plant and the jobs that come with it.

Bob Emmerson, of Total, said: "Without talks with our workers this project cannot continue and it does put its future on thin ice."

Paul Kenny: "There's a lot of exploitation in the industry"

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said Total had far more control over the situation than it was admitting.

"The reality is, Total call the shots," he told the BBC. "If they tell the contractors, 'settle this dispute,' it'll be settled.

"The reason that those dismissal notices were issued was because Total wanted them to be."

The GMB also reiterated its plan to hold a national ballot for industrial action among tens of thousands of its members employed in the mechanical engineering sector.

The sacked workers were given until Monday 22 June to reapply for their jobs.

Total says it does not expect to hear how many contract workers had chosen to return until the end of the week.

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