From the TUC

Was Lindsey all about non-union labour after all?

08 Feb 2009, By

Jean Eaglesham has wriiten a story in Saturday’s Financial Times lending credence to what many had already begun to suspect: that the employers’ strategy at Lindsey Oil Refinery in bringing in an Italian and Portuguese workforce was actually all about anti-unionism.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the curious things about this dispute was how little everyone seemed to know about what was going on. Reports of the number of workers involved in the IREM contract varied wildly. Although the protesting workers were concerned that the new workers’ terms and conditions were undercutting the national rate, they freely admitted that they didn’t know – and yet they were from the same site! Usually in a dispute of this nature, facts are thick on the ground. They and their interpretation may be contested, but they’re not absent – at LOR, they were. The TUC struggled to find out information from our Portuguese and Italian colleagues about whether the company and its mobile workforce were unionised. And it gradually became clear that they weren’t. And that may be what Total, and Jacobs, and IREM (see Process Engineering for a quick snapshot of the contracting process) were up to.

Not cutting terms and conditions – not yet, anyway; not seeking skilled labour they couldn’t find locally; not ensuring they had a workforce that could communicate easily with one another – Portuguese is just not that similar to Italian, after all. All of these explanations were advanced during the dispute. But the real reason may well be that Total or Jacobs wanted IREM because IREM could supply a non-union labour force.