Mass protests by construction workers at the Lindsey oil refinery have pushed the project six months behind schedule and some £100m over budget, French oil giant Total has revealed, claiming the expansion scheme is now “on thin ice”.
The company, which owns the North Lincolnshire site that has been the centre of a series of unofficial strikes this year, has admitted that any further cost overruns could “jeopardise the future viability of this important inward investment into the UK”.
Workers took action a fortnight ago after a fresh row erupted over jobs, with claims that a new subcontractor on the site – R Blackett and Charlton – had planned to hire 61 new workers even though it allegedly knew the original contractor Shaw was about to make 51 workers, doing exactly the same jobs, redundant three days later.
The dispute turned ugly late last week when almost 650 protesting contractors were handed dismissal letters and told they had only until Monday to reapply for their positions.
The move has sparked wildcat action up and down the country and follows strikes earlier this year over a decision by main contractor Jacobs to appoint work to Italian company Irem, which decided to use its own foreign workforce.
But Total has claimed that, despite workers being slapped with dismissal letters – which were burnt by workers outside the plant gates on Monday – it was “actively encouraging talks” between its contractors and the unions.
It has also expressed its anger over the disruptions to the scheme.
Total spokesman Iain Hutchison said: “We have been disappointed by the poor execution performance of this project.
“This project is on thin ice. We are faced with £100m in increased costs and significant delays.
“We want all issues resolved in order to get the project back on track and completed as soon as possible.
“If we want to secure the long term future of the refinery and employment in the local area we need to complete this project.”
Jacobs was unavailable for comment as Construction News went to press.
In an address to hundreds of protesting workers on Tuesday, GMB union general secretary Paul Kenny announced that the union had set up a £100,000 hardship fund so that “nobody is starved back into work”.
And in response to Total’s complaints over delays and cost overruns, he said: “Total started on this argument about sacking the workforce but, frankly, complaining now about how far the job is behind, and the difficulties that they have - well, I have got a suggestion for them.
“Why don’t they sack the contractors and employ the workforce, and then we will get the job done?”
Thousands of workers showed their support through sympathy strikes, including contract workers at Longannet power station in Fife, Aberthaw power station in South Wales and Cockenzie power station in East Lothian.