'British jobs'

Shortly after coming to office in June 2007, Brown pledged "British jobs for British workers".

But he is now struggling to keep the pledge after he called on world leaders to avoid protectionism at a time of global recession.

The Lindsey dispute started a week ago when British contract workers in the welding and machine-engineering trades started protests against the employment of Italian and Portuguese sub-contractors on a new construction project.

The foreign workers were employed by Italian group Irem SpA, which won a sub-contract from American engineering group Jacobs, which itself was awarded a contract by Total to carry out the work at the Lindsey refinery.

Irem brought in around 200 foreign contractors, following a process that Total have said meets European Union and British labour law.

Italian labour leaders and politicians have assailed Britain over the dispute.

While a deal may still be struck between Total and the unions, the issue of foreign labour is unlikely to disappear at a time when unemployment is rising steadily across Europe and economies are struggling with recessions.

Though the British government will seek to avoid accusations of protectionism, it will also be under pressure to study and even rework labour laws that currently allow foreign contractors to be brought in and paid the minimum wage, undercutting British skilled workers who normally earn more.