Things are turning very ugly.
This is awful!
It looks as though there's no real "illegality" in what Total are doing. Membership of the EU means that workers are free to work in any member country. And companies are free to pitch for business in other member countries. And it's quite understandable that a company would wish to use its own, known-quantity, employees and sub-contractors rather than find and hire new ones.
But the end result is that, as we crash into a major recession, the unemployed in some of impoverished parts of the UK see major work going ahead around them, and Italian and Portuguese guys brought in to do it.
They are understandably furious. Union spokespeople interviewed on the BBC yesterday were trying to walk an impossibly narrow tightrope. Not able to claim that IREM has broken any laws (or is even doing anything morally wrong) but wanting to echo the anger of their members. They're trying to do this by focusing on worries of a "race to the bottom" and the lack of social clauses in European freedom of labour rules. But, as far as I can tell, this isn't really the issue here. The Italians who are coming will be paid the same rate as UK contractors. They aren't being brought in because they're cheap. They're being brought in because the company that employs them is Italian and already familiar with them.
This is a horrible situation with no possibility of a happy outcome. The government and unions are caught in a dilemma. Go protectionist and they risk deepening the recession and wrecking European economic and political co-operation. Could the EU basically fall apart?
Defend the rights of foreign companies to work on contracts here, bringing their own labour, and they risk losing all credibility with the workers and opening the possibility of a right-wing working-class backlash. Think major gains for the British National Party in local government and within unions themselves; foreign workers everywhere in the UK becoming victims of xenophobia and racist attack.
There are only two options that might save us from this.
1) One is the government really commits to massive spending and development of its own in these areas, effectively creating enough jobs that this and similar cases don't matter all that much.
2) Or engage in quiet, behind the scenes, back-politicking with Total, IREM and maybe the Italian government ... for example to get them to create some extra positions for UK workers in this project. I'm talking even payoffs and bribes if it helps. It's underhand, ethically icky, but in this case, maybe it would be worth it. (Though I prefer option 1 obviously.)