In a sharp turn reflecting the turbulence of the 1970s, the UK has been engulfed in illegal strikes in the past weeks which could have brought the country to an energy standstill and deepened Britain’s recession, as well as shadowing doubt over whether the workers have been prepared for this new international era of work.
Across the country, protesters are holding strikes against companies’ continued use of foreign labour from our neighbouring EU countries, namely at the Lindsey Oil Refinery, which hired 300 Italian workers with apparently overlooking the British demand for employment. Strikers are claiming that British labour is being systematically bypassed for continental alternatives.
In recent days, the strikes and protests have spread out across the UK ranging from 400 demonstrators protesting outside a former ICI complex at Wilton, Teeside, 1000 workers staging a walkout at South Hook Liquified Natural Gas terminal in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire and 140 contract workers (employed by Siemans) downing their tools at Marchwood Power Station. And just as snow pelted down on the UK, nuclear workers joined the strike efforts.
Eager to resolve the strikers’ ailments, Business Secretary Lord Mandelson assured the workers that they have the right to go to work in mainland Europe just as much as European workers have a right to enter employment over here.
In a complementary statement, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber says ‘Unions have fought hard for decent conditions for migrant workers and back the free movement of labour within the EU’. He went on to emphasise, however, that the anger should be directed at the employers, not the foreign workers, who have apparently attempted to ‘undercut the wages, conditions and union representation of existing staff’.
With the economy in such a fragile state and unemployment almost reaching the 2 million mark, the strikes, although the source of anger can be understood, could deepen the recession into a potential depression and create an energy shortage crisis. Union leaders went on to say while sympathising with the workers, because the strikes are unofficial, they cannot support the stoppages.
It also sheds light onto whether companies in the UK are playing by EU rules which dismiss any form of discrimination against workers of any nationality. The EU has a policy of free movement of labour allowing workers from all EU countries to work within any other European country. However with 1.1 million EU citizens from mainland Europe working in the UK compared to 290,000 Britons working in the EU, it gives cause to concern whether companies are abiding by the rules or whether the workers are willing, prepared and able to reap the benefits sown from EU membership.
The mediation service, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Services), are continuing to mediate with both the managers and union leaders in order to resolve the potential crisis.