Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Refinery Walkouts: The Industrial Issues

There are two key industrial issues which mean that we should support these strikes:

1. Often, contracting companies on a particular site change. They lose the contract, or another company gets the contract for the next stage of the work. But the workers, once on site, follow the work. They remain there, even if their contractor employer changes - they get taken on by the new boss. Shaw's was subcontracted by Jacobs, the main contractor for building the diesel refining plant, and had a contract running up to February for part of the work. Shaw's had also bid for the next stage of the work, and its employees expected - on the basis of a lifetime's experience - that even if Shaw's lost the bid, they would be taken on by the new contractor and remain working on the site. That did not happen. Instead, IREM won the contract and did not take on Shaw's workers, instead bringing in workers from Italy. TUPE did not prevent this happening because it was a new contract for a new phase of the work. [Note: What a neat trick by the employers to get round TUPE - easily done in a situation of construction rather than, for example, ongoing maintenance work.]

If you were one of the Shaw's workers - even with an immaculate internationalist outlook - wouldn't you be pissed off that you now face losing your job later this month?! If you worked at the Lindsey refinery, wouldn't you encourage your workmates to take action against this - whilst of course, standing firmly against racist or nationalist demands or conclusions?! Or should they just shrug their shoulders and say "Hey, let the best man win"?!

2. The National Agreement for the Engineering and Construction Industries (NAECI) covers workers on all major projects in the UK and ensures union involvement in all energy projects. It is an agreement between the main employers' federations and the unions (both Unite sections plus the GMB). It covers a range of working conditions, including the working week, working away from home, safety, probationary periods, guaranteed hours, rates of pay, training, union recognition and encouragement of union membership. It is overseen by a National Joint Council. Because of the ECJ rulings (Viking, Laval, Ruffert), the NAECI can not legally be imposed on IREM's contract at Lindsey - IREM's right to provide services across borders trumps the right of workers to impose and defend their agreement. The NAECI does not apply to the Italian workers at Lindsey.

So even if the Italian workers are members of an Italian union, even if they are on wages as good as the other workers on site - in fact, even if they were on better wages - this situation represents a significant crack in an important national agreement and a weakening of union power. This crack, if not fought against, could easily become much wider very quickly, leading to widespread de-unionisation of this sector and attacks on pay and conditions.

In this siutation, shouldn't workers fight to defend unionisation and national agreements?!


The slogan 'British Jobs For British Workers' is a reactionary dead-end. Socialists have to get in amongst the strike movement and put forward that argument, and better alternatives, rather than stand aloof denouncing the strike.

Labels: ,