Wildcat strikes spread to another oil refinery

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The Independent Online

Wildcat strikes over jobs continued to spread across Britain today as thousands of workers staged a protest against the sacking of contract staff at an oil refinery.

Workers at the Coryton oil refinery in Essex took action for the first time since the dispute flared over a week ago, joining strikers from power stations and oil and gas sites.

Thousands of workers joined a huge demonstration outside the Lindsey oil terminal in North Lincolnshire, where the dispute started after 51 workers were laid off as other contractors on the site were hiring staff.

Almost 650 workers were sacked after taking unofficial industrial action, although many burned their dismissal letters yesterday and attacked the site's owner Total.

Contract staff at a number of sites, including the Longannet power station in Scotland, Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria, and Didcot power station in Oxfordshire continued to take unofficial action today.

Hopes of an end to the deadlocked row were raised when it was revealed that talks will be held later today between unions and employers.

One demonstrator was dressed as the grim reaper, holding a placard which said: "Grim News, 647 workers sacked."

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny was cheered and applauded when he announced that the union had launched a £100,000 hardship fund to support strikers.

"As far as we are concerned, they are victimised and locked-out people, and it is an official dispute from the moment those notices arrived."

Mr Kenny said the GMB was pressing ahead with a national ballot of thousands of workers in the industry in a long-running dispute over jobs and conditions.

"We are committed to a national ballot. We think we are about a week away from launching that national ballot. There are lots of technicalities, but we are absolutely clear we are going down that road."

Mr Kenny and the Unite union made clear there would be no resolution of the dispute unless all the sacked workers are reinstated.

Total urged the two sides to resume talks today, adding that the action had left a construction project at Lindsey six months behind schedule and around 100 million euros (£85 million) over budget.

Further cost overruns would "jeopardise the future viability of this important inward investment into the UK", said the firm, adding: "The firm urged discussions to focus on restarting the project and said it had been assured by contractors that workers would not face reduced pay or conditions.

"Total is actively encouraging talks to be opened between its contractors and the unions about how to facilitate the return to work of its contracting companies' former workforces.

"These discussions between the unions and the contracting companies should focus on getting the project back up and running within the agreed timeframe and budget.

"The contracting companies have assured Total they remain committed to the national agreement between themselves and the unions. There is no question of a reduction in pay or dilution of existing terms and conditions."

A deadline of 5pm yesterday was set for the sacked workers to reapply for their jobs, but Total said it would be the end of the week before the number of contract staff wanting to return to work would be known.

"However, the contractor companies have advised us that they believe they will have sufficient workforce necessary to meet their programming requirements," the company said.