More battles for construction workers

Submitted by Matthew on 26 September, 2012 - 12:02

Plumbers and heating and ventilation engineers in the Unite union have overwhelmingly rejected a below-inflation pay offer, with their union threatening to move to an industrial action ballot unless the offer is improved.

The Building and Engineering Services Association (BESA) is offering a two-year deal with a freeze in the first year and a 1.5 percent increase in the second year, despite what Unite calls their “healthy profit margins and order books”. Workers rejected the deal by a margin of nine to one.

BESA employers are the same contractors behind last year’s attempt to comprehensively deskill the construction industry and unilaterally abolish national bargaining, which led to months of both official and unofficial industrial direct action on construction sites across the country and finally forced employers into an embarrassing climb-down.

In London, electricians mounted flying pickets last week at a Crossrail construction site in Westbourne Park after union reps were victimised and 28 electricians were dismissed. Although Crossrail and senior contracting consortium Bam Ferrovial Kier (BFK) claim the 28 electricians were let go because the job they were working on was completed, activists accuse the of terminating the contract early in order to get rid of Unite health and safety reps who had raised concerns about conditions on the site. The Siteworker bulletin estimates that there may be up to “three to four years” of electrical work left to complete on the site, rubbishing bosses’ claims that there was no more work for the 28 sparks to do. Even the Managing Director of EIS (the electrical contractor whose contract was terminated by BFK) believes anti-union victimisation is behind the early termination of the contract.

The incident shows that, despite their defeat in the deskilling battle last year, major construction industry employers have not halted their campaign to cut every corner possible in order to squeeze out more profits.

Siteworker said: “Crossrail is going to be one of the largest infrastructure jobs in the whole of Western Europe — if it is unionised, the workforce will earn good wages and the job will be safe. This is a deliberate attempt by BFK to intimidate workers and keep the union off the project, so they can keep wages down and force through rushed production targets.”

Activists also suspect employers of using the notorious construction industry blacklist, which contains the names of over 3,000 workers deemed potential troublemakers by construction industry bosses, to victimise trade unionists. The GMB union is continuing its public campaign for justice for blacklisted workers, and received a boost recently when Knowsley Borough Council in Merseyside officially backed the campaign.

However, activists in Knowsley Unison are taking on those same councillors over their plans to become a “commissioning council”, where council services are tendered out to private contractors.