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Lawyers weigh in on Saltend dispute

17 Mar 11 The £200m project to build a new bio-ethanol plant near Hull is set to become a lawyers’ playground with sacked contractor Redhall Engineering suing client Vivergo Fuels and the Unite union suing Redhall.

 Last Friday Redhall was thrown off the job, where it was fabricating and installing pipework. Redhall said that it had completed 78% of the original contract plus variations, having started in March 2010, and was owed £14m. It now plans “to vigorously pursue the recovery of these costs plus damages”.

Redhall told its workers – several hundred of them – to turn up as usual on site at Saltend on Monday morning, saying they were to be transferred under TUPE regulations to Vivergo or whatever contractor was brought in to complete the job. The workers were then locked out, with both Vivergo and its project manager Aker Process denying any responsibility for them. Workers from other contractors on the project were sent home on full pay.

More than two dozen police had to be called to the site to calm the fracas that ensued.

Vivergo Fuels Ltd is a consortium of BP, Du Pont and British Sugar.

Both Unite and GMB unions have pitched in to defend their members, with Unite pledging legal action against Redhall.

Bernard McAulay, Unite national officer for construction, said: "Redhall has been using these workers as an industrial football while washing its hands of any responsibility to help the workers many of whom have years of service. The union is taking hundreds of legal cases against the company for issues ranging from unfair dismissal to unlawful deduction of wages. This employer has a choice, it can sit down with the unions and settle this through negotiation or it faces hundreds of legal cases against it and a massive bill.

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"Our members have been available to work and complete this project to the highest industry standards, but are being denied that opportunity.”

GMB, meanwhile, is worried that there will be a repeat of what happened at the Lindsey oil refinery in 2009 when hundreds of UK workers were locked out and replaced with lower paid overseas workers. Jacobs, the US parent company of Aker Process, was also involved at the Lindsey refinery.

GMB senior organiser Les Dobbs said: "GMB members have increasing fears that the dismissal of the UK based workforce will lead to them being replaced with lower paid exploited overseas workers. Jacobs, who own Aker Process the project manager on this site, were also involved at Lindsey Oil Refinery when the dispute arose over the exclusion of UK workers from the site to be replaced with lower paid overseas workers and are therefore knowledgeable of the concerns and damage that this type of dispute can cause. I am calling on BP, Du Point and British Sugar to ally these fears and to intervene now to get everyone back to work.

“GMB members are effectively locked out by the main contractors. Demonstrations have already started in Hull, Middlesbrough and Newcastle upon Tyne.

“Those paying for the building of the site - BP, Du Point and British Sugar - have to get a grip of this problem before the situation deteriorates further.”

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