You can go and work in Europe, Mandelson tells strikers

Unions furious as ministers take aim at Britain's wildcat protesters

Lord Mandelson enraged unions and Labour MPs last night by accusing wildcat strikers of "protectionism" and claiming they could turn the recession into a full-blown depression.

The Business Secretary inflamed the dispute over foreign workers by suggesting that protesters could go and work elsewhere in Europe if they were unhappy.

As the mediator Acas was called in to try to prevent more unofficial strikes planned for tomorrow, the peer issued a statement that failed to damp down growing industrial unrest.

His support for free movement of workers in the European Union was also at odds with Gordon Brown's 2007 promise to safeguard "British jobs for British workers", a phrase which has been turned against the Prime Minister by protesters.

In a statement issued from the world economic forum in Davos, Lord Mandelson said: "I understand people's concerns about jobs and it is important to make sure that both domestic UK law and European rules are being applied properly and fairly. But it would be a huge mistake to retreat from a policy where, within the rules, UK companies can operate in Europe and European companies can operate here. Protectionism would be a sure-fire way of turning recession into depression."

Lord Mandelson was backed up by Caroline Flint, the Europe minister, who told The Independent on Sunday: "As the Prime Minister has said, we understand people's concerns and insecurities particularly at this time. The Government is doing everything possible to keep people in work and to provide support to those looking for jobs. It is important to remember that open European labour markets also allow British firms and workers to take advantage of contracts and opportunities elsewhere in the EU."

Union leaders and Labour MPs denied the protests were about protectionism. GMB general-secretary Paul Kenny said the statement showed ministers were still unaware of the "unequal treatment" faced by workers in the jobs market.

He said: "Mandelson needs to get his head out of the stars and come back down to earth. We now have a situation where the legislative framework in Britain works against our workers. The Government promised to sort this out five years ago... but they have not sorted it out."

Mr Kenny added: "Mr Mandelson has come back from Europe and he thinks everything is fine. He needs to get his feet on the ground."

The Labour MP for Cleethorpes, Shona McIsaac, said the decision to hire foreign workers was like a "red rag to a bull" to local unemployed people.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the contracts were awarded some time ago, when there was a shortage of labour in the construction sector.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003