LONDON - Trade unions asked the British government yesterday to tighten the law on the use of foreign workers after Britons fearing job losses staged a series of protests at energy plants across the country.
Hundreds of contractors at the Lindsey oil refinery in eastern England, owned by France's Total, walked out again yesterday. Six hundred contractors at a plant owned by ConocoPhillips on the east coast also downed tools.
British workers are angry that Italian and Portuguese workers have been brought in to build a new unit at Lindsey after Total awarded the contract to an Italian company. The week-long dispute has prompted a series of walkouts in sympathy at power plants across the country and triggered a debate on European laws on labour mobility as unemployment in recession-hit Britain surges towards two million.
Unions argue that Britons are losing out because of a botched interpretation of a European Union directive into British law.
"As the interpretation of the law now stands, it is possible for overseas companies to refuse to employ UK nationals on projects in the UK," the GMB union, which represents 600000 workers, said.
The labour unrest follows related protests in Greece, Russia, France and China, prompting analysts to caution about more widespread economic nationalism.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the strikes were the wrong course of action and the government has backed a statement from Total which said it does not discriminate against British workers. - Reuters