Unite ends strike action at largest oil refinery in UK run by ExxonMobil with a whimper

On June 7, the Unite union announced the end of the industrial dispute by 100 workers at Fawley oil refinery near Southampton—the largest in the UK—run by US oil giant ExxonMobil.

Even based on the limited details disclosed in the union press release, the terms of the agreement fall well short of the demands which prompted workers to take strike action from early April, including three 24-hour stoppages. The refinery workers—employed by three contractors for ExxonMobil, Trant Engineering Ltd, Veolia Services and Altrad Services—rejected an insulting 2.5 percent two-year pay offer and demanded occupational sick pay.

Workers on the picket line at the Fawley oil refinery (WSWS Media)

The settlement was agreed prior to a fresh round of one day stoppages at the Fawley refinery which supplies a sixth of the UK’s petrol and diesel to garage forecourts and 20 percent of airline fuel used nationwide. The scheduled stoppages on June 9,10,16,17 and 20 would have escalated the industrial action. Unite provided no details on the vote to accept a revised offer.

According to Unite the agreed pay deal is for a 9.2 percent increase in hourly wages and premiums. While workers’ determined refusal to accept 2.5 percent has resulted in a pay settlement beyond what the companies initially tried to foist on them, it is still below the RPI rate of inflation which has reached a 40-year high of 11.1 percent.

The union tries to get around this awkward truth by referring to the rate inflation in April (9 percent) when workers began their action, as if the cost-of-living crisis has stood still rather than worsening ever since.

Unite has also ended the dispute without the core demand of workers for occupational sick pay being resolved. The union dedicated one line in passing to, indicating it has been kicked into the long grass: “A new working group on sick pay has also been set up.”

While classified as key workers during the pandemic because of the critical role they play in the maintenance and safe operation of the refinery, the contract workers continued to be subjected to inferior terms. Those employed directly by ExxonMobil receive sick pay from day one. Under conditions of a global pandemic now in its third year, contract workers are forced to rely on Statutory Sick Pay of around £96 a week.

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