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Talks Continue in Effort to Quell British Strikers

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

FEBRUARY 4, 2009

LONDON — A rash of strikes protesting the employment of foreign workers in the U.K. spread to at least one new site Tuesday, as negotiations to resolve the strikers’ concerns entered a second day.

Workers at Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Stanlow oil refinery joined hundreds of others across the U.K. who have walked off the job in support of strikers at Total SA’s Lindsey refinery in Immingham, northern England.

Contract workers at Lindsey stopped work last week to protest a decision by Total to award a construction subcontract to an Italian company that intends to bring in staff from abroad rather than use local workers.

The strikes reflect growing tensions across Europe, as a deepening recession prompts workers, companies and others to demand aid and protection from their governments. In Greece on Tuesday, police clashed with farmers on the island of Crete who sought to board ferries with their tractors to stage a protest in Athens. The farmers are seeking government aid to help them through a period of low prices for their goods.

Some 800 protesters gathered to demonstrate at Lindsey on Tuesday, according to local police. They were supported by strikers at more than nine other oil refineries, power plants and energy facilities across the U.K. Meanwhile, strikes ended at four facilities: Ineos PLC’s Grangemouth refinery, BP PLC’s Kinneil gas-processing facility, the Sellafield nuclear-power site in northwest England, Chevron Corp.’s Pembroke refinery, and the Dragon and South Hook liquefied natural-gas terminals. Pembroke workers returned to work Monday, while the rest returned Tuesday.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., the Lindsey project’s main contractor, met with Total and union representatives Tuesday in talks to resolve the dispute. The discussions began Monday and are being mediated by an independent, government-funded body called the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, or ACAS.

ACAS said it will investigate the dispute by looking at contractual arrangements, tendering processes, meeting minutes, and national and local wage agreements. ACAS expects to publish its findings by Feb. 13.

The unions claim legal precedents set by the European Union enable employers to undercut wages and working conditions for U.K. workers, and in some cases exclude U.K. workers from projects altogether.

Total defends its tender process as fair and competitive. “We recognize the concerns of people but we must stress that it has never been, and never will be, the policy of Total to discriminate against British companies or British workers,” the company said in a statement.

Operations and energy supplies weren’t affected at any of the plants where walkouts were reported. Other sites hit by walkouts included ConocoPhillips‘ Humber refinery, ExxonMobilCorp.’s Fawley refinery, Scottish and Southern Energy PLC’s Fiddler’s Ferry power station, Drax Group PLC’s Yorkshire power station, and ScottishPower’s Cockenzie and Longannet power plants. ScottishPower is the U.K. unit of Iberdrola SA of Spain.

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