Wildcat strikes continue at UK oil refineries

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Wildcat strikes over the use of foreign labour at British oil refineries continued on Tuesday as hundreds of workers downed tools, marking a full week of protests.

Hundreds of contractors at Total’s Lindsey oil refinery at Killingholme on the east coast continued their strike, while eight hundred were reported to have walked out in sympathy at nearby power plant and refinery owned by ConocoPhillips.

Some contract workers also went on strike at Royal Dutch Shell’s Stanlow refinery on the west coast.

The dispute stems from a decision by Total, the French owned oil company, to award a contract to expand the Killingholme plant to IREM, an Italian company that is using its permanent Italian and Portuguese staff to do the work.

Talks between Total and union representatives brokered by the mediation service Acas entered their second day on Tuesday.

Unions have pressed the government to tighten the existing law on the use of foreign workers. ”As the interpretation of the law now stands it is possible for overseas companies to refuse to employ UK nationals on projects in the UK,” the GMB union, which represents 600,000 workers, said in a statement.

”The UK government should take the advice of the EU Parliament and press the EU Commission to correct this interpretation,” it added.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the strikes “the wrong course of action,” backing a statement from Total that denies discrimination towards British workers.

The week-long dispute has prompted a series of walkouts in sympathy at power plants across the country and triggered a debate on European laws on labour mobility as unemployment in recession-hit Britain surges towards two million.

No disruptions in energy supply have been reported so far.

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