» Friday, January 30, 2009

Oil Refinery Protests

Asked if the Prime Minister had sympathy for the striking workers who were quoting his own words about British jobs for British workers, the Prime Minister s Spokesman (PMS) replied that people would have heard what the Prime Minister had said already this morning in Davos, where he said that of course we understood the concerns of people who were worried about their jobs, and that was why we were doing all we could to help. On the specific example of construction workers that we were seeing today, his understanding was that these contracts were awarded some time ago when there was a shortage of skilled labour in the construction sector in the UK. This was obviously not now the case, and we would be speaking to the industry in the next few days to ensure that they were doing all they could to support the UK economy.

Put that the Government could not require them to take on British workers, the PMS replied that there were obviously two different issues here. One related to EU workers, in this specific case it was covered by the Posted Workers Directive that allowed contractors to bring in labour temporarily to fulfil contracts, obviously according to the UK labour laws. The second related to non-EU workers where we had taken steps to implement a points-based system, as people had seen over recent months, and that identified where there were shortages in the economy in areas where we did not have the availability of workers able to fulfil specific tasks, and there the responsibility for people seeking to employ overseas workers was to show that those jobs could not be done by British workers. So we had taken action in that regard.

Asked to clarify what was meant by ensuring the industry was doing all they could to support the UK economy, the PMS replied that the point was that the contracts that were awarded and were being carried out now using EU labourers, were awarded when the economic conditions were different, when the labour market was in a different place. We wanted to ensure with the construction industry and others that in the current economic climate and labour market, we were collectively doing all we could to support the economy.

Asked what more could be done, the PMS replied that on specifics we had to wait and see what would come out of conversations with the industry.

Asked if it was a matter of asking them or trying to persuade them, the PMS replied that we wanted to ensure that we had explored all the options with the industry.

Asked for more details on the form that these talks would take in the next few days, and who would be involved, the PMS replied that we were not in a position to give a precise answer on who would be attending those talks or who would lead them.

Asked if the Prime Minister regretted using the phrase British jobs for British workers , the PMS replied that the point was that what we had tried to do with the points-based system was to ensure that British workers were given the opportunities that exist in the labour market first. Where there were shortages, or where those jobs could not readily be filled by British workers, then employers may seek those workers from overseas. So we had taken action, as we said we would.

Asked again if the Prime Minister regretted the actual phrase, the PMS replied that he (the PMS) did not see a reason for regret in that the action we had taken had meant that we were now putting in place measures to ensure that British workers could have access to the vacancies that exist in the system.

Put that the point-based system was never intended to specifically to deal with an economic downturn, and asked what had changed, the PMS replied that the points-based system was intended to ensure that where there were opportunities in the jobs market, that employers looked first to see whether those vacancies could be filled by British workers. And where there was a shortage of skilled British potential candidates for jobs, that enabled the employers to look elsewhere and look overseas for workers.

Put that the point was that the points-based system did not affect EU workers, and asked if it was not the fact that it was virtually impossible for the Prime Minister to ensure that British workers got jobs ahead of other EU labour, the PMS replied that we had a free market of labour in the European Union, but it was also important to remember that this worked in favour of British industry who were able to compete on an equal footing with European companies for contracts elsewhere in the European Union.

Asked if the Prime Minister had any concerns about the situation today, and did he feel that the system was not working, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister set out his views when he was asked a similar question in Davos.

Asked what the Prime Minister s message was to those taking industrial action, the PMS replied that the message was that we understood their concerns about their jobs, that we were doing all we could to ensure that the economy recovered from this global economic downturn as quickly as possible, and that where people did lose their jobs, we would do everything that we could to ensure that they were able to get the skills and the training that they needed to get back into work quickly.

Asked if we would like them to stop the action immediately, the PMS replied that the dispute between the workers and Total was for workers to resolve with their employers.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that as the recession bites there would be further industrial action, the PMS replied that he was not going to make a prediction on that.

Asked if there was a Minister who would be coordinating the response, the PMS replied that we had the National Economic Council that drew on Ministers from across Government, which looked at issues relating to the UK economy as a whole.

Asked if COBRA was getting involved at all, the PMS replied that he was not aware that it was.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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