Thursday, 5 February 2009

Lindsey refinery dispute hints at an EU problem

With a new deal on the table aimed at resolving the Lindsey oil refinery strike, 'Mark Mardell’s Euroblog' has teased out the more interesting ramifications of a possible solution to the dispute. Although 100 jobs for local workers, offered by the Italian company at the centre of the controversy, might do most to address the immediate concerns of picketing strikers marching around with Union Flags, it is an undertaking to ensure Italian employees are retained under conditions negotiated by British Trades Unions, which establishes a more prescient precedent.

Under the terms of the renewed offer, it would not be possible for Italian workers at the site to undercut British employees (as European law permits). They would instead be earning Union rates commensurate with those earned by their UK colleagues. Significantly, the government has played a role in steering both sides towards this outcome.

Mardell speculates as to whether Labour might now push for greater standardisation, as regards workers’ rights, across the EU. Although he remains doubtful, a compelling precedent would nevertheless be set within the United Kingdom if such a high profile case is solved in the fashion which has been suggested, although obviously no legal obligation could be imposed.

Many observers have watched this dispute with mounting distaste, detecting underlying xenophobia at work. ‘Your Friend in the North’ excoriates a strike which has been heavy on national flags and pejorative terms for fellow EU workers, but rather light on solidarity.

It was Gordon Brown (via the BNP) who provided a tagline for the refinery strikes, and if nothing else, the affair is a lesson in the baleful effects of populist oratory. The genie should never have been let out of this particular bottle.

There is, however, a genuine problem, exacerbated by the economic downturn, wherever cheap labour is seen to be undercutting local workers. It is at its root a European Union problem, albeit one that has been inflamed by the Prime Minister’s irresponsible rhetoric.

5 comments:

John said...

Under the terms of the renewed offer, it would not be possible for Italian workers at the site to undercut British employees (as European law permits).

I have heard this contention on a number of occasions. I'd be grateful if you could explain what aspects of European Law permits it.

Because my understanding of EU law is different - employees have to be paid and treated in accordance with the laws of the land to which they are working.

fair_deal said...

John

Do a google search for the Laval ruling, it will provide you with the detail of the relevant court decision.

John said...

Yeah, I know the Laval judgement.

If you are using that as the basis to argue that European law allows undercutting of labour from one country to another, then your argument is weak. It doesn't - the hardcore of labour law must be adhered to. The problem is with domestic, not European law.

John Carroll said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Many observers have watched this dispute with mounting distaste, detecting underlying xenophobia at work.

As soon as I see this trigger phrase, I stop reading. Xenophobia - the most ludicrously overplayed trump card since "racism".

These two words have stifled and poisoned every debate in which they've been (inapprorpriately) played.

"British jobs for British workers" is nothing to do with politics - it is merely common sense. When we leave the ghastly EU, we can sort ourselves out again. As for the 'observers' mentioned, I hope none of them are paid from the public purse.