Views from the migrant workers

Issue section: 

Francesco and Gianluca, like their 98 Italian colleagues housed on a barge at Grimsby Fish Docks, had arrived in late January on a four-month contract to work at the French oil giant, Total, at Lindsey oil refinery in Immingham.

Francesco, in his late 40s, had worked as a welder in Tunisia and Libya. Gianluca, in his 30s, worked in Croatia and Germany. "This is my first time in the UK," he said.

And here in north Lincolnshire, "it was the first time in my 20 years of working life abroad that I've experienced anti-foreign feelings," said Francesco.

The Unite union said the strikes were about challenging the existing Posted Workers Directive and ensuring service providers follow national agreements across the European Union. [In this case the national agreement for the engineering and construction industry, of which the Acas inquiry found no violation by Total].

However, despite these bread and butter issues, the unions have rallied behind the divisive slogan of "British jobs for British workers" which excludes migrant workers.

For the Italian workers, "British jobs" have always been for British workers. "There are 3,000 workers working at Total, most of them already British," said Francesco. The real issue, he said, is not about which nationality group gets a higher number of jobs. It is about equal terms and conditions for all. The system in which companies make profits by subcontracting labour isn't specific to overseas firms and it affects workers of all nationalities.

"I understand local workers' concern. Many of them are affected by the level of unemployment in Britain. Many workers on protests are actually jobless. This is why our jobs at Total suddenly became the focus. But in fact, there is no real division of interests between the Italian and British workers. We work alongside each other and there've been no problems.

"The problem I have working for IREM is that the terms and conditions are never made clear between different groups of workers. This can create divisions. We definitely need transparency. In fact, we'd like to ask our employer about it, and if we find that we're on a lower rate, we'd be asking for a wage rise.

"The problem is we have weak and useless trade unions in Italy," said Francesco.

Instead of advocating equal conditions for all workers, the British trade unions have fought for quotas for British workers and endorsed nationalism. Instead of ensuring migrant workers get paid the same rate, the unions worked to send workers back to their countries of origin - 40 to 50 Portuguese returned home as a result last week.

The 100 Italian workers at Grimsby Fish Docks have become more isolated from the local community since the racially charged strikes.

"A strict security control has been imposed on us [by the company]. Anyone from outside the barge isn't allowed to come in and talk to us," workers said, through the metal gate.