'Talks planned' over refinery row
Union officials have told the BBC they are due to meet contractors later to hold talks over the sacking of 647 workers at the Lindsey oil refinery.
Les Bayliss, from Unite, said a meeting was planned for Tuesday afternoon, but unless the workers were reinstated there would be "a continued problem".
The owners of the North Lincolnshire site, Total, said earlier they were encouraging talks between the parties.
The workers were sacked last week after staging unofficial strikes.
Since then some 3,000 staff at other sites around the UK have walked out in support.
The plants affected include Coryton oil refinery in Es**** Longannet Power Station in Fife and South Hook in Milford Haven.
The Lindsey workers first withdrew their labour on 11 June in protest at a sub-contractor axing 51 jobs while another employer on the site was hiring people.
UNREST AT LINDSEY REFINERY
28 Jan: Workers walk out over use of foreign labour
5 Feb: Strikers vote to return to work after deal is struck
19 May: Workers strike over use of non-local labour in Wales
21 May: They return to work
11 June: Workers walk out over job losses
15 June: Talks aimed at resolving the dispute fail
16 June: Deadlock over proposed further peace talks
19 June: Nearly 650 workers are sacked
On Tuesday morning, French company Total released a statement saying it was "actively encouraging" talks to "facilitate the return to work of its contracting companies' former workforces".
Previously it had said that talks could only take place if the striking workers, employed by a sub-contractor company called Jacobs, returned to their jobs.
Mr Bayliss, who is assistant general secretary of Unite, said a meeting was due to take place in London on Tuesday afternoon.
It will bring together representatives from Jacobs and another sub-contractor Shaw, but Total will not be involved.
"We're confident that we can find a mechanism to get a return to work, but... I've made it clear from Unite's position that top of that agenda is the reinstatement of the people that have been sacked," he said.
"So unless that issue is dealt with then we're going to have a continued problem."
The reality is, Total call the shots
Paul Kenny, GMB
A Unite spokesman said members of the Engineering and Construction Industry Association would also take part in the meeting, but talks would not be constructive until the sacked staff were reinstated.
Protests have taken place at the plant since the sackings and on Tuesday morning about 1,000 men waving placards picketed the gates in a demonstration organised by the GMB union.
Total 'in control'
The BBC's Paul Murphy, who is at the refinery, said Total had insisted that calling for talks was all it could do because Jacobs was a sub-contractor and therefore Total had no legal responsibility for the employment of the men.
But general secretary of the GMB union, Paul Kenny, said Total had far more control over the situation than it was admitting.
"The reality is, Total call the shots," he told the BBC. "If they tell the contractors, 'Settle this dispute,' it'll be settled.
"The reason that those dismissal notices were issued was because Total wanted them to be."
The GMB also reiterated its plan to hold a national ballot for strike action among tens of thousands of its members employed in the mechanical engineering sector.
Total said discussions "should focus on getting the project back up and running within the agreed timeframe and budget".
"There is no question of a reduction in pay or dilution of existing terms and conditions," it added.
The sacked workers had been employed on a project known as HDS-3 to build a new site alongside the existing Lindsey plant.
Total said the project was now six months behind schedule and that delays had already cost "in the region of an additional 100 million euros".
Bob Emmerson, from the company, told the BBC the row could jeopardise the long-term future of the plant.
"It's about safeguarding the future of the refinery and the jobs that go with it over the next few years," he said.
Paul Kenny: "There's a lot of exploitation in the industry"
"Without talks with our workers this project cannot continue and it does put its future on thin ice."
The company said it expected to hear by the end of the week how many contract workers had chosen to return.
A number of other sites were affected by sympathy strikes on Tuesday. Among those walking out were:
Refinery owner Ensus also said some of its 1,100 workers on Teesside had walked out, but the exact number was unclear.
- Up to 150 contract workers at Longannet Power Station in Fife
- Up to 300 contractors at Aberthaw power station in the Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales
- 200 workers at Drax and Eggborough power stations near Selby, North Yorkshire
- At least 200 contract workers at the Coryton oil refinery in south Essex
- About 500 contractors at Stanlow Oil Refinery in Cheshire
- About 60 contract maintenance workers at Didcot A, a power station in Oxfordshire
- "A small number" of contractors at Cockenzie power station in East Lothian
The Lindsey workers are accusing bosses of breaking an agreement not to cut jobs while there are vacancies elsewhere on the site. Total insists no such agreement was in place.
Workers say the assurances were given in February following a bitter dispute in which they said foreign labour was being used to exclude British contractors and to undermine hard-won conditions.
The foreign workers row led to a wave of unofficial strikes and protests at refineries and power stations across the UK.