Total agrees to talks as strike spreads

By Liz Stephens

Oil company Total has agreed to hold talks with unions at the Lindsey oil refinery later today after up to 4,000 contract workers at power stations and oil and gas terminals across the UK walked out in sympathy with the strikers.

The biggest walkout was at the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria where 900 contract staff decided to stay out until Wednesday.

Last week almost 650 contract staff working on a new hydro desulpherisation plant at Lindsey in North Lincolnshire were sacked by firms working for French oil giant Total after a week of unofficial industrial action over job losses.

The sacked workers burned their dismissal notices yesterday in an act of defiance.

Total’s u-turn came as a surprise to the unions, which have been pressing for talks since last Friday. Unite general secretary Les Bayliss said: “I am pleased to see that the company has changed its position.”

Total said it is “actively encouraging” talks. However, it had previously distanced itself from responsibility for the sackings, claiming the dispute was out of its hands because it involved sub-contractors.

The strikes have damaged productivity at the plant which is now £100 million over budget and late being completed.

Michael Benezit, president of refining and marketing at Total, said:” My only goal is to see an end to the strike as soon as possible. We have already suffered huge cost over-runs.”

Unions expect strike action to continue to escalate today. Phil Whitehurst, of the GMB union, said: “I’m expecting thousands of people from all over the country. The amount of people who set fire to their letters yesterday (Monday) showed what kind of support we have.”