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Posted on 27 May 2009 at 0:00 GMT

Milford Haven strike win big victory

Workers strike at South Hook construction site near Milford Haven, Wales , photo Dave Reid

Workers strike at South Hook construction site near Milford Haven, Wales , photo Dave Reid

Construction workers at the South Hook LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) terminal construction site near Milford Haven in South Wales have won a big victory over employers by taking unofficial action in defiance of anti-union laws.

Dave Reid

Solidarity action by construction workers across Wales and England has forced Hertel UK to back down from its attempt to refuse to employ any more unionised UK-based laggers on the site. The plant's contract with Hertel UK is "under review". Clearly the prompt action, illegal under the current ant-union legislation, across the country was hurting Hertel and the industry as a whole. Hertel was forced to make a humiliating climbdown.

Over 200 workers walked off the site on 19 May when Hertel refused to employ any more unionised UK-based laggers, members of the GMB, but instead brought in workers from Poland.

Construction workers at the nearby Dragon LNG site walked off the job in solidarity and joined the picket line at South Hook along with another 16 sites across Wales and England. 500 construction workers gathered at Aberthaw power station in solidarity with South Hook and over 1,000 at Lindsey Oil Refinery and Conoco in Lincolnshire. Workers at the Murco refinery in Milford Haven were due to join them.

Workers were very angry at the reneging on the SPA (Supplementary Project Agreement) which had guaranteed that jobs on the site would be offered to unionised local workers first before looking outside the UK for workers. Hertel publicly claimed that they could not find skilled laggers locally, but this was a bare-faced lie. Hertel management had already told shop stewards in a meeting last week that none of 40 new lagging jobs would be offered to UK workers, in a clear breach of the SPA that had existed on the site.

Workers strike at South Hook construction site near Milford Haven in Wales , photo Dave Reid

Workers strike at South Hook construction site near Milford Haven in Wales , photo Dave Reid

When the management broke the agreement by bussing in workers from Poland the 40 existing laggers walked off the job together with the rest of the construction workforce.

Hertel claimed it was not paying the Polish workers below the union rate, but pickets believe that they were not receiving the same pay and conditions as union workers. In any case, by breaking the SPA Hertel could have used the lack of an agreement to drive a coach and horses through agreed pay and conditions in the future.

Hertel faxed the media that the Polish workers had been removed from the site, but this was never a demand of the union. The workers merely wanted the SPA to be adhered to, allowing unionised UK skilled workers to apply for the job and had no problem working alongside other workers from Europe. Workers at South Hook were not opposed to laggers from Poland getting work on the site as long as local laggers were given the opportunity of the work first under the union agreement and then foreign workers employed with the same pay and conditions.

Journalists from all the main media outlets searched in vain at Milford Haven for the banners demanding 'British jobs for British workers'. This was never action against foreign workers, but to defend jobs and to protect union agreements.

The BBC emphasised that a UKIP candidate was leafleting workers at Aberthaw power station in the Vale of Glamorgan but failed to mention he had been publicly instructed to f*** off by the union convenor. In contrast there was a warm response to the leaflets for No2EU Yes to Democracy and workers at both sites queued to take copies of the Socialist Party newsletter from Lindsey.

This has been a big victory for construction workers across Britain and for trade unionism in general and shows that rapid solidarity action, ignoring the delays imposed by anti-union legislation, can force employers into humiliating climb downs.

But clearly employers in the construction industry will not accept this setback lying down. They will attempt to undermine and break the NAECI agreement (the national agreement on terms conditions) and local supplementary agreements wherever they can. This battle has been won but the war is not over. Solidarity action will be needed again.

See also Workers strike at South Hook construction site in Wales

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