Sunday, February 01, 2009

Human Resources: Recession-sparked social unrest hits protectionist Britain

With the recession biting and unemployment rates rising, Britain is the latest European country to experience social unrest. At issue in the U.K.; the practice of legally employing foreign European workers in certain sectors while some Britons remain unemployed.

The economic strains that first appeared in the U.S. subprime market last year are now being measured in terms of growing social unrest here in Europe as people confront an uncertain future under the backdrop of growing unemployment.

Over just the past week, angry demonstrators have hit the streets of Iceland, Russia and France.

That unrest has now reached the shores of Britain. At an oil refinery on the eastern coast near the town of Grimsby, British workers are calling for a change of policy.

At issue, the legal employment there of hundred of Italian and Portuguese contractors while many Britons cannot find any work.

Keeping abreast of developments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warns now is not the time for Europe to look inward. "There is an implicit protectionism I am afraid in what is happening at the moment and we have got to deal with this. What is happening now is that countries which have had foreign banks investing in them are seeing the withdrawal of capital. So, it is no accident that crises have been sparked in the eastern European countries in recent weeks because of the flight of capital and then the need to rely on the International Monetary Fund to protect them," he said.

But the noisy discontent may only be starting. At least a dozen demonstrations were staged Friday across the country at energy plants in sympathy with the original protest.

The national mediation service has moved in to talk with unions and employers here to try to calm the dispute before it gets out of hand.

Gordon Brown maintains that international cooperation is key in solving such issues. "We should not retreat from the idea that we can solve these problems and still believe in the idea of an open, free market, flexible, inclusive and sustainable globalization," he said.

But locals are demanding that Mr. Brown fulfills the promise he made two years ago when he championed the call for British jobs for British workers.

By Tom Rivers
Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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