Friday, 30 January 2009

Opinion: The refinery strikes

These days its all about the economy. In the biggest global depression for over 70 years you can hardly blame the media for the extensive coverage the 'meltdown' has received.
Today then is no different, although this time oil refineries are involved.
Up and down the UK, hundreds of British workers have walked out and gone on strike, protesting against the number of foreign employees being used on the country's oil refineries.
So here's a quick for and against commentary on the issue.
For the British workers decision
The whole situation centres around the Total owned oil refinery in Lincolnshire. A California based company had the contract to build it and it was then subcontracted to an Italian based firm called IREM. But five British companies were also in the running to get this contract as well, so why did IREM get the nod? It probably sounds a bit nationalist, but surely you should look inward first before looking externally?
In 2007, Gordon Brown specifically said he would create "British jobs for British people", so this surely contradicts this?
It is estimated that around 60% of power stations will need to be replaced within the forseeable future. So if foreign companies are going to continually be brought in to do these tasks, then why not make a statement now and let you voice be heard?
Against the British workers decision
Technically speaking, none of the Licolnshire workers have lost their jobs because of IREM. According to Total, there's actually been 1,800 local workers on the site up till now. Also, its not as if the foreigh workers are NOT getting paid less or indeed more to do the same job. They're getting paid exactly the same and its their legal right to do so because of European law.
The workers, as well as trade union UNITE, are claiming they've been discriminated against in their field. But surely protesting against it, is discriminating against the foriegn workers as well? In fact, they aren't doing anything wrong, its the legal right to be able to work in the UK.
These protests are also illegal. They are unofficial and their trade unions can't back them. If they truly wanted a result, then going down the proper channels should have been the better thing to do perhaps?
Its difficult to speculate when you can't see the contracts which have been signed by IREM. The situation is obviously less than ideal. In times of recession, foreign workers are hardly going to be welcomed with open arms by UK nationals. Its not something I agree with, but its definitely am issue that exists and trying to deny it is naive. In this case though, the overseas workers aren't earning any less or more than their UK counterparts, so any argument is surely going to be discriminatory one way or the other.
Ultimately in times of recession, no-one wants to see others out of work or made redundant. But in this case, no-one has been let go...yet. If heads do begin to roll however, then this story could take an even more volatile route in the very near future.