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UK: Unions press for changes on foreign jobs

  Trades unions urged the government on Tuesday to tighten the law on the use of foreign workers after Britons fearing job losses staged a series of protests at energy plants across the country.

Hundreds of contractors at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire, owned by France’s Total, walked out again on Tuesday and 600 contractors at a plant owned by ConocoPhillips on the east coast also downed tools. Workers are angry that Italians and Portuguese have been brought in to build a new unit at Lindsey after Total awarded the contract to an Italian company.

The week-long dispute has prompted a series of walkouts in sympathy at power plants across the country and triggered a debate on European laws on labor mobility as unemployment in recession-hit Britain surges to close to two million. The strikes have not disrupted energy supplies.

Unions argue that Britons are losing out because of a botched interpretation of an EU directive into law.

“As the interpretation of the law now stands it is possible for overseas companies to refuse to employ UK nationals on projects in the UK,” the GMB union, which represents 600,000 workers said in a statement. “The UK government should take the advice of the EU parliament and press the EU Commission to correct this interpretation,” it added.

The labor unrest in Britain follows related economic protests in Greece, Russia, France and China, prompting analysts to caution about more widespread economic nationalism. It has also frayed ties between the unions and the Labor government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said the strikes are the wrong course of action and the government has backed a statement from Total which said it does not discriminate against British workers. Total and union representatives were meeting on Tuesday for talks brokered by mediation service Acas. (Reuters)