Unite has given notice to Balfour Beatty Engineering Services of its plan to ballot more than 1,000 members employed at the firm for strike action.
The strike ballot will open on Wednesday 16 November and close on Tuesday 29 November and could hit key infrastructure projects such as Crossrail and power stations.
In May this year, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, along with other leading construction companies, informed Unite of its intention to withdraw from the Joint Industry Board national agreement next year.
Unite say they are targeting Balfour Beatty Engineering Services first as it believes the firm is acting as the `ring-leader’ of a group of employers who are breaking away from the agreement and the union says five firms out of the seven have threatened to sack workers who refuse to sign the new contracts by 7 December.
Balfour Beatty is top of the CNInsight 100 table with turnover up 3.1 per cent to £9.23bn in the past year.
The employers are proposing a new agreement which, according to union members, will involve reducing the average wage by up to 35 per cent and introducing a new grade of worker.
However the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association (HVCA) is working with the firms to introduce in March next year a new single national agreement to replace five separate deals drawn up 40 years ago in the building engineering services sector.
Balfour Beatty has issued a statement to Construction News insisting that no employees will have their wages cut however thousands have taken part in protests across London today.
The 7 contracting companies who intend to leave the JIB are:
- Bailey Building Services
- Balfour Beatty
- T Clarke
- Crown House Technologies
- Gratte Brothers
- SPIE Matthew Hall
MJN Colston was part of the original group but has now indicated it will remain within the JIB.
The remaining companies have drafted in help from the HVCA to draw up their own agreements independent of the ECA and JIB and the HVCA say unions are misrepresenting the terms of the new deal.
The timing of the strike days and where the action will take place will be decided by the shop stewards at a later date.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Balfour Beatty will be the first of the rogue firms to feel the anger of its workers, who have already shown real guts in their battle to defend their livelihoods.
“The failure of the senior management at Balfour Beatty Engineering Services to withdraw the threats of dismissal has left Unite with no choice but to ballot members for industrial action.”
Mr McCluskey warned the strike could bring ‘mayhem’ to the industry.
In a statement, a Balfour Beatty spokeswoman said: “Balfour Beatty Engineering Services remain committed to the HVCA and the introduction of the Building Engineering Services National Agreement which will introduce one consistent set of terms and conditions for electrical, mechanical and plumbing operatives who are currently employed under a number of existing industry agreements.
“We believe that by implementing the new agreement we will create a more modern structure, better able to respond to the market place and to safeguard employment, without eroding the terms and conditions of our employees.
“No employee will have their wages cut, electricians will earn the same rate under the BESNA and mechanical and plumbing operatives will see an increase in their hourly rate to create a level playing field.
“The UK construction industry is under pressure to increase efficiency, to improve productivity and to minimise costs. We are in the process of consulting with our workforce on the proposed introduction of the BESNA, this process includes providing the opportunity for our employees to ask questions to fully understand the detail and benefits of a single agreement for BBES and the industry as a whole.”
HVCA say the new agreement will bring the following benefits:
- Increased on-site efficiency and business competitiveness.
- Pay parity across all trade disciplines resulting in increases for nearly a third of workers.
- Safeguarding of jobs.
- Broader training opportunities for apprentices.
- Upskilling opportunities for many employees.