Hull BP dispute - police arrest union officer

by Caroline Colebrook

TEMPERATURES rose last Wednesday morning at the long-running lock-out dispute at the BP Saltend site near Hull when police arrested a national officer of the GMB union.

Phil Whitehurst was arrested while he was attending the lawful protest against the loc- out of 430 workers at the BP site when he went to check the number of pickets penned on a traffic island.

He was taken into police custody at Hull police station and video footage that he took of the morning’s event was confiscated.

The union reacted quickly, saying it would challenge any charge in the courts and use the video footage of the events.

GMB is preparing a complaint to the Police Complaints Authority, in relation to the provocative and overbearing policing of this dispute.

Whitehurst had arrived after GMB general secretary, Paul Kenny, asked him to attend talks newly convened by the arbitration service Acas at the dispute on Wednesday morning.

This followed the failure of talks convened before Easter by Acas failed to resolve the dispute over the lock-out of 430 engineering construction workers at BP’s Saltend site.

A mass meeting on 21st April of the members lock-out rejected an offer to buy out their rights and vowed to continue the dispute until they are allowed back to work at Saltend.

The members resumed the protest demonstrations outside the site and the first protest demonstration took place on the 21st April. These workers have been locked out of the site since 14th March 2011.

The GMB launched a hardship fund with an initial donation of £100,000 and issued an appeal for further funds from other parts of the trade union movement.

GMB has also issued a site alert regarding the BP Saltend site to all its members in all trades in the construction industry as the union is concerned that any worker offered employment on the site will need to firmly establish that the financial support is available to enable the project to be completed.

The dispute arose when the consortium of companies contracted to build the £200 million bio ethanol plant — Vivergo Fuels, which include BP, Du Pont and British Sugar — subcontracted the management of the project to Aker Process, part of the US Jacob Group.

In March Vivergo Fuels became dissatisfied with the rate of progress, sacked a subcontractor and hired another. The workers were assured their jobs would be transferred but this did not happen.

On 11th March 2011 notice was served upon Redhall Engineering Solutions Ltd by Vivergo Fuels Ltd for performance related issues, thereby terminating any agreement between themselves and Redhall Engineering Solutions Ltd.

Redhall Engineering Solutions Ltd issued a communiqué to the workers stating that as from 07.31 on Monday 14th March 2011 they will no longer be employed by them and should turn up for work to be transferred under TUPE legislation to either Vivergo Fuels Ltd or any contractor that is given the contract.

When the members turned up for work on Monday 14th March, Aker Process Ltd on behalf of Vivergo Fuels Ltd denied any liability to employ the transferred staff. This left GMB members in an impossible situation in that they were locked out and have not received any wages since 07.31 a.m. on 14th March 2011. Workers from the other contractors have been sent home on full pay.

Maria Ludkin, GMB national legal officer said: “GMB members who have been locked out of the BP site at Hull since 11th March have been engaged in lawful, legal protest against BP and the main contractors trashing their legal rights to work on this site.

Every attempt by the Union to get BP to reopen the site to allow our members to complete this engineering project has been met with a blank refusal to even acknowledge that these workers have rights which are being trampled upon.”

She said the arrest of Phil Whitehurst was part of a long campaign of police harassment of the peaceful and lawful picket. “Police have threatened to arrest our officials on a daily basis for acts such as taking photo’s of Union members on the protest, or stepping off a curb onto the road.

“It is obvious to us that the officers controlling the event, in particular, Inspector Hinch from Hull police, have a political agenda designed to intimidate sacked workers exercising their legal rights.”