UK workers end wildcat strike over foreign labour

NORTH KILLINGHOLME, England (Reuters) - British workers voted on Thursday to end a week-long unofficial strike over the use of foreign labour at a French-owned oil refinery in eastern England.

Workers at the Total-owned Lindsey plant told Reuters they would return to work on Monday after accepting a union-backed deal that would give British skilled workers around 100 jobs at the site.

“We’ve agreed to go back to work on Monday because we’ve reached our objective,” said Tony Ryan, a local representative of Britain’s biggest union Unite.

“We didn’t want British labour to be excluded and now they are not going to be.”

The dispute over the use of Portuguese and Italian contractors at the refinery instead of British labour at a time of surging unemployment had triggered sympathy strikes across Britain.

The strikes had not affected energy supplies because they involved workers involved in maintenance and construction.

Although they have not organised the strikes, unions hope most of those sympathy protests will cease but also warn other cases where foreign skilled workers have been drafted in to British sites could trigger further industrial action.

Unions argue that foreign workers can be employed for lower wages than British staff and are depriving qualified Britons of jobs.

The Lindsey dispute started last week when British contract workers in the welding and machine-engineering trades launched protests against the employment of about 200 Italian and Portuguese on a new construction plant.

The strike has embarrassed Prime Minister Gordon Brown who pledged “British jobs for British workers” in 2007, with many protesters holding placards bearing that same slogan.

Brown, currently urging nations around the world not to retreat into protectionism as the global economy weakens, is now under pressure to ensure British skilled workers are not excluded from applying for contracts on British soil.

“This fight hasn’t stopped this is only the start of the battle to get equal rights for our workers,” said Ryan.

Reporting by Luke Baker, Editing by Matt Falloon