FOREIGN workers at Fawley refinery are today celebrating a 160-per-cent pay rise that led to strike action being called off.

A 24-hour walk-out at the refinery, which produces about 270,000 barrels of crude oil a day, was due to have started in the early hours of yesterday.

Foreign workers employed by Nico Industrial Services had threatened to strike amid claims their wages were less than half those of their British counterparts.

The row led to a 24-hour stoppage earlier this month, followed by an overtime ban.

Britain’s biggest union, Unite, said Italians and Bulgarians employed by the company were being paid about £48 for a ten-hour day, whereas British workers working for Nico and other contractors on the site were on around £125 a day.

But a second walk-out was called off at the eleventh hour after the company agreed to pay all nationalities the same wage.

Unite’s regional officer, Malcolm Bonnett, said: “We are pleased to announce that after talks with the company a new ‘pay parity’ deal at the refinery has been agreed.

“All the workers at Nico will now be paid the same rate for the job.

“The members have accepted the deal and as a result, the 24-hour strike due to have started yesterday was called off, as was the overtime ban.

“The deal is backdated to September last year. Unite will also be recognised for collective bargaining purposes by the employer.

“This is victory for fairness in the workplace and pay parity. A combination of the solidarity of our members, support from other workers on the Fawley site and the media attention on this dispute all contributed to breaking the logjam with management. Unite now looks forward to working with the company in a constructive fashion in the future.”

The dispute involved about 20 specialist workers who clean out some of the tanks at the refinery, which is run by Esso and ExxonMobil.

Speaking just before the stoppage on July 14 a refinery spokesman said: “ExxonMobil is not involved in this matter and the points in issue relate purely to Nico and Unite.

“ExxonMobil does not expect the picket to have any impact on ongoing operations or supplies to customers.

“We will continue to work closely with all contracting companies working on the site, and advocate dialogue between all key parties to resolve any issues.”

The 3,250-acre refinery is the largest in the country, employing about 1,600 people and producing a fifth of the UK’s refinery capacity.

A Nico spokesman was unavailable for comment.