Some 250 workers have been sacked after objecting to the way asbestos was removed from a building site at the liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel terminal being built near Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.
Welders, steel erectors and labourers employed by Chicago Bridge and Iron at the South Hook LNG terminal struck from 11 May.
After nearly two weeks on strike, the workers were prepared to return. They had received assurances from the Health and Safety Executive and management over their asbestos concerns.
But they found the site gates locked, and two days later they received their P45s.
“Management have really shot themselves in the foot,” one worker told Socialist Worker. “We were on our way back to work and now this happens. They are bang out of order. We weren’t out on a pay issue – it was a safety issue.”
The workers had wanted the company to “damp down” asbestos during the day and install showering facilities so workers did not go home “possibly covered in asbestos dust”.
One worker said, “We don’t want to be taking dangerous dust home to our families. We are also worried that buses used on site could then be used for school runs.”
The asbestos was removed at night and the process had been going on for weeks before workers became aware of it.
Welder and GMB union shop steward Doug Corbett said the asbestos removal had been a “clandestine operation”.
Now, he says, “this is a fight about returning to work. It is about human rights and the right to work.
“We want to be reinstated not re-employed. If we were re-employed we would have to be interviewed again and might have to accept conditions that were not in our original contracts.
“We want our jobs back and then any issues about safety can be sorted out inside the gate in the usual manner.
“The company has allowed it to escalate to this extent. We have handled ourselves fairly and considerately.”
He added that he is waiting to hear if the GMB and Amicus unions would officially support the picket line.
He said, “I would like every trade unionist in the country to phone the unions and say, ‘You have to support these guys.’
“We’ve lost a lot of money here. It has cost us a lot but we’ve done nothing wrong.”