Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Friday, 19 June 2009 12:54 UK

Almost 650 dismissed at refinery

Workers outside Lindsey oil refinery
Sacked contractors are urging workers at other sites to take action

Almost 650 workers constructing a new plant at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire have been sacked, following unofficial strike action.

About 1,200 contract workers walked out last week in a dispute over 51 redundancies. They claim an agreement not to axe any jobs had been broken.

Total, which owns the plant, said no such agreement was in place.

Late on Thursday it confirmed "with regret" that its contractors had started dismissing hundreds of staff.

It was initially said that 900 workers had been sacked but Total later revised that figure to 647.

A group have gathered outside the main gates of the Lindsey refinery, waving placards accusing bosses of greed and urging them to "share out the work".

'Sympathy strikes'

Unite national officer Bernard McAulay has arrived at Lindsey to talk to Total managers and contractors.

AT THE SCENE
BBC Correspondent Paul Murphy
Paul Murphy at Lindsey refinery

A growing number of sacked workers are picketing one of the entrances to the giant refinery. They cheer as they are beeped by passing cars and lorries. The placards held aloft read "Put British Workers First".

And that's the essence of this bitter dispute. They claim Total had offered an assurance that no jobs would be lost here while foreign workers were employed on site. A claim the company denies.

The pickets have all been here before, spending days on end in January protesting at the employment of Italian contractors over their UK counterparts. But this protest has been different - unsupported by their unions and unofficial.

That's why they've been sacked, but there's an olive branch - if they apply for their old jobs by Monday then they have the chance to work here again.

On the picket line though they're in defiant mood - describing Total's actions as brinkmanship, vowing to stay out in protest until agreements about foreign workers and redundancies are more clearly defined.

He said he was "always hopeful" ahead of talks and added that the conciliation service Acas was due there later.

But he criticised the way the dispute had been handled, describing the employers' actions and methods as "despicable".

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said: "Total have not tried to resolve this dispute, they sought to escalate it and they have sought to victimise people.

"I'm appealing to Total to actually come to the table and help the unions resolve it."

But the human resources manager at the refinery, Bob Emmerson, has defended the company's approach.

"We would welcome talks, but for those talks to take place, we have to have the people back in work," he said.

"There is a due process to go through that is agreed with the unions, that is agreed with workers in the construction industry, we have lines of communication that are open, we have elected union representatives."

Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who represents a nearby constituency, said a negotiated settlement was the only way to settle the dispute.

"I've heard... that the union wants to get round the table with the employers and I think the only way that this is going to be settled is around those kinds of discussions," he said.

But Mr Johnson, a former union leader, added: "A basic element in employment law is that if you want to go on strike, fine, but you have to have a ballot. That's not the case in this dispute."

ENERGY WORKERS' PROTESTS
Map of Uk showing key locaions
1.Stanlow oil refinery
in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire
2. Aberthaw
west of Cardiff
3. Ferrybridge power station
in West Yorkshire
4. Staythorpe power station
in Nottinghamshire
5. Ensus site
on Wilton chemical complex, Teeside

On Friday, workers at a number of sites walked out in support of those who have lost their jobs.

  • At the Ensus site at Wilton in Teesside, all 1,100 workers have walked out, according to a company spokesman
  • About 300 workers are protesting outside Aberthaw power station in south Wales
  • More than 100 contract maintenance staff have walked out at the Stanlow Oil Refinery in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Shell says the action will not affect production but may delay routine maintenance projects
  • Some contract workers have downed tools at Ferrybridge power station in West Yorkshire. Scottish and Southern Electric say the plant is operating normally

Text messages are reportedly being sent to fellow workers around the UK to encourage them to take action too.

One of the sacked Lindsey workers told the Press Association: "We are asking for support from workers across the country which I am sure will be given. Total will soon realise they have unleashed a monster.

"It is disgraceful that this has happened without any consultation. It is also unlawful and it makes me feel sick."

Total's Bob Emmerson: 'We want the workers back for negotiations'

Another sacked contract worker, John McEwan, said: "We were left no option.

"If we have to defend the rights of our men on these sites and our pay and conditions then we have to do that."

The Lindsey workers had been building a new plant next to the existing site, but withdrew their labour last week in protest at a sub-contractor axing 51 jobs while another employer on the site was hiring people.

Over the past few days, workers at other power stations have walked out in support.

'Frustrating'

Planned talks between unions and employers aimed at breaking the deadlock stalled on Tuesday.

In a statement, Total said the workers had been involved in "an unofficial, illegal walk out" that was "repudiated" by both Unite and the GMB union.

"Total can confirm, with regret, that our contractors have now started the process of ending the current employment contracts for their workforce on the HDS-3 construction project," the company said.

UNREST AT LINDSEY REFINERY
28 Jan: Workers walk out over use of foreign labour
5 Feb: Strikers vote to return to work after deal is struck
19 May: Workers strike over use of non-local labour in Wales
21 May: They return to work
11 June: Workers walk out over job losses
15 June: Talks aimed at resolving the dispute fail
16 June: Deadlock over proposed further peace talks
19 June: Nearly 900 workers are sacked

Total said it had "repeatedly sought to encourage the workforce to return to work so that proper negotiations can take place".

"This is in line with the union and industry agreed process that negotiations over illegal strikes cannot commence until the workforce has returned to work.

"It is frustrating and disappointing that these attempts have failed."

Total said any contract staff who wanted to return to the site could reapply for positions until Monday.

The construction project will remain closed in the meantime.

Total added that the 51 disputed redundancies were necessary because the relevant part of the project had been completed.

"That is the nature of the construction industry and is normal industry practice," it said.

The Lindsey refinery suffered strikes earlier this year over the employment of non-UK workers.


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SEE ALSO
Refinery jobs walkout talks fail
15 Jun 09 |  Humber
Walkout after 'local labour' row
19 May 09 |  Wales
Support demo over foreign staff
30 Jan 09 |  Wales

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