Friday, June 19, 2009

Total S.A., a French oil company has fired 900 contract workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery in North Killingholme, North Lincolnshire, England in response to a wildcat strike which took place at the facility this week. Total is calling the strike “illegal” and “unofficial”; the oil workers, meanwhile, accuse Total of having broken an agreement not to cut jobs by giving 51 workers redundancy. Total claims no such agreement exists. The workers were employed by Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., a contractor at the site, who are constructing a new hydro-desulfurization unit.

“Total can confirm, with regret, that our contractors have now started the process of ending the current employment contracts for their workforce”, the company said in a statement e-mailed to the media.

Workers were informed of the termination decision on Thursday and will have until Monday, June 22, to re-apply for their former jobs.

The strike at Lindsey this week sparked sympathy strikes by workers in energy and the chemical industry around the United Kingdom, which draws extensive revenues from North Sea oil. Attempts by the UK government-sponsored Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to resolve the dispute between Total and the Lindsey workers failed. Trade union Unite said that it was “extremely concerned about the ramifications” of the firings, while GMB urged both sides to return to the discussion table. Total has made an end to the strike a precondition of a resumption of negotiations; meanwhile, the Lindsey workers’ demands include a withdrawal of the 51 redundancies, an end to overtime, and sharing out of the remaining work at the construction project without layoffs.

Lindsey was the site of labor strife earlier in the year, with a week long strike in February brought about over employees’ protests at foreign labor being brought to the refinery to undercut British workers’ wages. IREM, an Italian construction company working at the site, has made heavy use of the Posted Workers Directive, which as interpreted by the European Court of Justice allows companies to make use of foreign labor from within the EU in one country while paying them only the minimum wage and offering only the coverages and benefits applicable in the employees’ home countries.

The plant, which refines 221,000 barrels of oil each day, will remain at full capacity.

According to its annual report, Total had a 2008 net income of 13.9 billion. Since the firings were announced, shares of Total have gone up in price 0.94% to €39.315 in morning trading.

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