Where unions and inflation-busting pay rises still rule

Green shoots of recovery may be proving elusive elsewhere in the UK, as Jaguar Land Rover announces today a second round of job losses for this year, but there is at least one sector of private enterprise where, as far as I can tell, work is plentiful, pay is rising and job vacancies appear regularly, though probably in the hundreds rather than thousands at a time.

I’m talking about engineering construction: the sector that gave you such modern marvels as the Middlesbrough transporter bridge, the Esso refinery at Fawley and, um, Sellafield nuclear power station.

It also gave you wildcat strikes at Lindsey Oil Refinery, Staythorpe power station and elsewhere over claims that a) UK workers were being denied work unfairly and b) foreign workers were being paid less than the nationally agreed rate.

I’ve written about this sector before, noting that, according to trade unions, there was still plenty of work to be had.

And last week, it seems my analysis was proved right. Employers represented by the Engineering Construction Industry Association, who operate a national scheme for negotiating with unions over terms of employment on these projects, have caved in to practically every single union demand. From next year, workers will get a two per cent pay rise (above inflation, according to the Treasury’s predictions), twelve paid leave weekends a year, an extension to their injury cover scheme and strengthened rights for their unions.

If this industry was in decline, would the bosses be so generous? I suspect not. But another factor has got to be the all-powerful effect of wildcat strikes, which nobody has yet broken. And as long as the clients of these projects – Shell, E.ON, Total and others – continue making big profits, it seems unlikely to change.

More details here. Ask yourself: do unions get as good a deal as this anywhere else right now?


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