UK union recommends end of wildcat strike

Wednesday, February 04, 2009
By JILL LAWLESS, Associated Press Writer

LONDON —  A union representing striking workers at a Total refinery in northeastern England recommended Wednesday that its members end their wildcat walkout over the hiring of foreign workers.

The walkout was triggered by the decision of Italian construction company IREM SpA to use Italian and Portuguese workers for a huge construction project at the Total refinery in Immingham.

Hundreds of workers have been off the job for a week at the site, 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of London, and workers at other energy facilities across Britain have staged sympathy walkouts.

But officials with the Unite union said Wednesday they had made significant progress toward achieving their demand that half the jobs on the construction project go to British workers.

"We've been offered what we went in for, really, which is 50/50," said Tony Ryan, a member of the strike committee. "The stewards' recommendation tomorrow will be for the lads to return to work."

Workers will vote on the issue Thursday. Earlier Wednesday, the union had rejected an offer for just over 20 percent of the jobs to go to Britons.

The protests reflected concern in Britain about rising unemployment _ currently at 6.1 percent _ and fears of more layoffs as the global economic slump worsens.

Under European Union rules, the Italian and Portuguese laborers have the same right to work in Britain as British citizens do _ and Britons have the right to work in other EU nations. But it is not clear under EU law how far countries can go to protect jobs for their own nationals.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown told lawmakers during his weekly question-and-answer session in the House of Commons that he hoped workers would accept the deal "despite their initial reservations."

He said the construction industry had agreed on new guidelines that advised employers to "always consider whether there are competent workers locally" when hiring for a project.

British government officials have said they understand workers' concerns, but argue protectionism will make the economic downturn worse.

Brown has faced criticism because he promised in a 2007 speech to provide "British jobs for British workers." He has since said he meant that British workers should be given the chance to improve their skills to compete with the rest of the world.

"In an open global environment where there is competition for jobs, it is our duty to help British workers get the skills" they need, Brown told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

The European Union presidency, meanwhile, said Wednesday that the use of foreign labor in Britain had nothing to do with recession-driven unemployment there.

Czech deputy premier Alexandr Vondra said opening up national labor markets to workers from the new EU nations over the last half decade has had a positive effect for nations like Britain as well as for poorer EU members.

The Czech Republic currently holds the EU presidency.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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