Posts Tagged ‘engineering construction’

Build a power station, get a nearly-five-per-cent pay rise

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Last year I blogged here about how, in a climate of austerity, engineering construction trade unions had secured an inflation-busting pay rise.

Well, strike two: they’ve done it again, only in a climate of even more austerity. Workers on engineering construction sites – power stations, gas terminals, motorways and the like – will get a 4.7 per cent pay rise from 2011, it’s been announced.

Phil Davies, who leads on the sector for the GMB union, told me this was a “good deal”. “It’s one of the top ones in the collective bargaining area.”

The deal reflects the fact that big things still need to be built – partly in the energy sector. Last year’s Ofgem report indicated there would be more capital investment, while this week three renewables firms announced they would build new factories.

But there’s also the prospect of big contracts being handed out for the government’s High Speed 2 rail link and the upgrading of trunk roads.

The latest industry reports show that, while orders in the sector fell last year they did not fall catastrophically, and orders are currently picking up. In engineering construction, the pay rises show no sign of abating.


What the Ofgem energy price news means for unions

Saturday 10 October 2009

In two words: more work. Unions will decry the profits made by ‘fat cat’ energy bosses, as they always have, but even if directors and shareholders do benefit from the rising prices warned of in today’s Ofgem report, at least the brothers in the engineering construction sector will be able to feel reassured that demand for their services – building power stations, liquefied natural gas terminals, oil refineries, flue gas desulfurisation plants (you learn something new every day) and more – is going to go up.

That is the inescapable conclusion from the Ofgem report. In 2008, energy companies’ capital expenditure was about £8 billion. The report models four possible scenarios, ranging from low investment and a lack of  new renewable energy generation (costing about £95 billion over the next 11 years) to a fast transition to green energy (costing about £200 billion over the same period). Even in the lowest cost scenario, which would see the UK miss its carbon reduction targets, there will have to be more investment in new plants in the years leading up to 2020 than there was last year – itself a rise on the 2007 figures.

If Ed Miliband/David Cameron wants to meet those carbon targets, there will have to be more new build power stations, probably including ‘clean’ coal and nuclear.

This can’t come too soon for the sector, which has admittedly (despite my own optimistic noises below) taken a hit during the recession, as the latest industry report shows. That trend looks set to be reversed in a year. Employment will rise and the pool of skilled workers will shrink.

If a new national agreement has been threashed out by then (which it currently hasn’t) that could mean more militancy and strikes. Alternatively if there is a new NAECI, it will help unions as more workers get jobs and pay their union subs. But in the meantime, this Ofgem report is likely to steel those workers and union negotiators holding out for a better deal…

Wildcat strikes raise their head again

Monday 5 October 2009

Lindsey oil refinery protestShocking stuff just in from the GMB union: Workers on engineering construction sites have rejected the new pay and conditions offer put to them by their union shop stewards just a few weeks ago (which I wrote about below at the time).

This means that those 30,000 workers think they deserve a better deal from the employers – and are prepared to strike, officially or unofficially, to get it.

The union bosses though it was a good deal, and told me so. A pay rise scheduled to be above inflation, increased rights for union officials to instigate grievance proceedings, and a promise to pre-audit companies to make sure they were prepared to pay according to the national rate. “We’ve got what we want on auditing”, said GMB national secretary Phil Davies, one of the union negotiators. GMB and Unite shop stewards agreed.

Judging by the GMB press release put out this morning, part of which appears below, the workers aren’t happy at the lack of a promise to have an unemployed workers’ register to use to fill vacancies – the employers only promised them a working party to look at it, as I recall.

This news seems to confirm what I said in my last blogpost on the subject – it really does look as if the unions, and the workers, have employers over a barrel in this growing sector. More wildcat strikes perhaps. Be interesting if wind farm building sites come under the sector (I have asked Unite, but didn’t get a definite answer)…

The 30,000 engineering construction workforce have voted to reject the employers offer on pay and conditions in workplace individual ballots held over the past two weeks. The offer was in response to claims from the unions GMB and Unite… Workers on seven sites have already voted for industrial action in pursuit of the claim…

Phil Davies GMB National Secretary said “The members want more progress on the skills and unemployment registers and they want to copper-fasten the pre award audit to screen out employers who plan to undercut the agreed rates and terms and conditions.

“The employer’s offer of working parties on the registers is seen as jam tomorrow and the members no longer trust the employers to deliver.

“The members want the package to be completed now so that they can see what they are getting. The next step is to go back to the employers to see if they are up for further talks.”

Where unions and inflation-busting pay rises still rule

Thursday 24 September 2009

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?

The work is there… and it’ll stay there

Monday 2 February 2009

In my last post but one, I suggested that one reason for the wildcat strikes was that there is work to go round and money to be had – it’s just not being offered to British workers.

I’ve just had a look at the pay claim submitted last October to the National Joint Council for the Engineering Construction Industry, which represents employers and trade unions and which sets nationally binding pay and conditions for engineering and construction workers. This is what it says:

“The current economic climate, widely publicised as the credit crunch, has caused some economic and industry commentators to question whether the robust growth that the UK construction industry has enjoyed in recent years will continue.

“In considering this we should be mindful of a number of objective facts. For example, it is worth noting that whilst the total volume of construction output fell by 0.5% between the first and second quarter of 2008, new infrastructure output grew by 7% over the same period. In addition it is worth noting that the latest Construction Skills Network Report forecasts that the infrastructure sector will experience the largest growth through to 2012, averaging 5.8% each year from 2008 to 2012.


“Whilst it is true that no one is currently in a situation to predict the medium term effect that the current economic slowdown will have on the UK construction industry as a whole, there a number of infrastructure projects and policy decisions that will ensure long term growth in the engineering construction sector.

“Even the most casual observer of UK economic and political debate cannot fail to appreciate the increasing importance that the UK energy production industry will have going forward into the future. Progressive Governments will have tough choices to make as they seek to balance targets for reducing carbon emissions with providing a stable foundation for economic growth, whilst at the same time reducing energy price inflation.”

Further proof, then, that the jobs are not only there, but they’ll stay there. In the circumstances, this dispute could run into next year in some shape or form. If the government is minded to take action in support of B****** j*bs for B***** workers, it will probably require European legislation, which would take years to draft, agree and enact. And if not, expect more trouble ahead.

Wildcat strikes: quote of the week

Monday 2 February 2009

The following quote is from, a message board for construction workers with strong links to the action. I should point out that it does not seem to be representative of views on the website as a whole.

“This fight has never been against the Italian workers, but his total (Like the Pun TOTAL) disregard to our feelings has took it to another level… We did not take this to a racial level W***, you did, now get ready to reap what you sow.”

Read the full quote here.

More about the strikes when I have time…

What the wildcat strikes tell us

Friday 30 January 2009

To see Unite shop steward Kenny Ward, dressed in dayglo orange and Unite flag in hand, addressing crowds outside the Lindsay oil refinery this morning – and railing against greedy bankers* – was to see industrial action of the sort we thought we would not see again. Secondary strike action? From workers in companies other than the ones to blame? Oil workers striking in support of construction workers? Have we gone back to the 1970s?

I’m shocked. Did anyone expect to see workers at 17 heavy industrial sites across the UK walk out on unofficial strike action? The leadership of the big unions appears to have been taken by surprise; certainly these protests have not been coordinated from their headquarters. How they managed to co-ordinate the protests I’m not yet sure, but I’ll have to find out soon.

Logistics apart, that workers see the point in striking at all in these straightened times is somewhat remarkable. Shouldn’t they be grateful they have jobs at all, one might say. At the end of last year, after threats of national strike action from the National Union of Teachers and the PCS civil service union bit the dust, I was confidently predicting that there’d be no more strikes for the foreseeable future. Hell, I was predicting it last week.

In fact, it’s not too hard to see why workers have chosen to take action in support of ‘British jobs for British workers’. First of all, as that Unite flag indicates, these people are unionised; at the Ineos plant at Gragemouth in Scotland, where workers successfully went on strike last year over pensions, Unite represents 1500 people. In construction the main specialist union, UCATT, repreasents 125,000. Big construction projects are bound in terms of pay and conditions by a national agreement, and the big unions talk to each other both informally and through a national council. That may explain the co-ordinated action today.

Then there’s the fact that, unlike, say, car workers asking for a pay rise, these people have a lot to play for. Recently I spoke to Tom Hardacre, Unite’s national officer for construction, for a Tribune article on just this very issue: UK workers being denied construction jobs on projects run by foreign contractors. He said: “We are complaining that people can’t get work where there is work. At this moment in time, in engineering and construction there’s quite a lot of work, but they’ve been denied that through the importation of non-UK labour.”

Recession or no recession, construction is not dead. Power stations are being built – and just last week,the Government announced the shortlist for a Severn tidal energy scheme. There are jobs to go round, and if (as has happened several times) companies say flatly “British workers need not apply”, British workers get angry – but this is intelligent anger, anger with a purpose. I’m inclined to think the workers are going to win concessions.

Ian King of The Times has an interesting take on the dispute, in which he blames Gordon Brown (I couldn’t possibly comment…)

*Update, 10:36 Friday: Actually, it was “greedy employers”. Sorry, my mistake.