British strikes ‘first of a flood’, union leader warns

February 4th, 2009 - 6:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Feb 4 (DPA) The row over the use of foreign workers in Britain which erupted Friday could be the “first in a flood” of cases across Europe if the European Union’s (EU) labour laws are not improved, a top union leader warned Wednesday.”If there’s suspicion that people are working cheaply, then there will be more and more cases like this one … This will be the first of a flood of issues which arise,” said John Monks, general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

“It’s got one of those combustible feelings to this issue, and it could happen in nearly any country at any time,” Monks told DPA in an exclusive interview.

Thousands of workers at the British oil refinery of Lindsey walked off the job Friday in protest at plans to bring in Italian and Portuguese construction workers at a plant owned by Total, the multinational energy company. The protest sparked sympathy strikes across the country.

The workers in Lindsey were angry at Total’s decision to bring in foreign labour after a British contractor had apparently failed to meet a construction deadline, Monks said.

British conciliation service Acas is reportedly working on a deal which would see at least some British workers employed on the site.

But Monks warned that the EU law which allows companies to post their workers to other EU states could provoke many more outbreaks at a time when jobs are being slashed because of the ongoing recession.

The EU’s law is “not enough of a guarantee in this time of rising unemployment that cheaper foreign workers won’t be imported en masse to undercut particular groups. That’s what we fear,” he said.

“At the heart of it is the shortage of jobs and the recession and (the feeling), ‘my God, I’ve lost my job and somebody else who’s come from outside is doing it.’ That is going to be an explosive issue in free-movement Europe,” he said.

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