Strikers will vote today on a deal over foreign workers amid warnings from union leaders that the Government needs to prevent a repeat of the unofficial action that has hit refineries and power stations across Britain.
Under the proposal, British workers will be offered 102 out of 198 new jobs in the contract awarded to an Italian company at the Lindsey oil refinery in north Lincolnshire. None of the 300 Italian workers at the plant will lose their jobs under the agreement, hammered out during two days of talks at a hotel near Scunthorpe.
A deal to end the dispute will delight ministers, who have been embroiled in an increasingly bitter row over Gordon Brown's promise to create "British jobs for British workers". Yesterday Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the Unite union, said he expected the offer to be accepted by staff at the site, and hoped the breakthrough would end protests by engineering construction workers at other sites across Britain.
But he warned that ministers needed to take action to ensure that British workers could apply for jobs on future contracts to avoid more protests.
It was unclear whether contractors who had walked out at Staythorpe power plant in Nottinghamshire in protest at foreign labour would return to work today. A spokeswoman for the employers Alstrom said 60 contract staff and scaffolders had been off work since Tuesday. A demonstration is planned for next week.
Trade unions plan to hold a national demonstration in London for construction workers to highlight what had happened at Lindsey. Mr Simpson insisted that he could not condone the unofficial strikes but said they had served to "focus the minds" of senior figures among unions, employers and government. He said: "The Government must act to level the playing field for UK workers." Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: "There is still some way to go but at least people are beginning to understand what we have been saying."
The Labour MP Colin Burgon won loud cheers from party colleagues as he used Prime Minister's Questions to press for reform of the European rules at the heart of the dispute. By last night 18 Labour MPs had signed a Commons motions calling for reform.
At the Lindsey plant there were cheers when workers learnt that management had agreed to improve its offer. Union leaders stressed that many of the jobs would be skilled and would be alongside the Italians and Portuguese on the agreed pay scale of up to £14 per hour. But negotiators sought to play down suggestions that this was the end of the wildcat actions across the rest of the country where 20 plants have been hit by unofficial walkouts.
Shaune Clarkson, regional organiser for the GMB union said: "We might have won the battle but the fight goes on. It is not just about here it is about the whole picture."