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HTC Plant boss pledges to ‘lock ourselves in a room’ with Ucatt until pay deal is agreed

HTC Plant and Ucatt will hold fresh talks tomorrow over a pay dispute that saw around 200 HTC Plant crane operators call for an 8 per cent pay increase during a 24-hour strike on Friday.

More than 100 of the operators picketed at Land Securities’ Nova site in Victoria, central London, where HTC Plant is working, with union Ucatt.

HTC Plant operator Dave Holder told Construction News it was not clear what impact the strike had on projects because most of the cranes were “winded off” on Friday due to the weather.

However, he said he would hold a meeting with Ucatt tomorrow in a bid to get the remaining strikes, scheduled for Friday 14 and 21 November, called off.

“We have to lock ourselves in the room until we get a solution, because there’s too much at stake,” he said. “It’s coming up to Christmas so nobody wants to lose another day’s pay. It’s no good for anyone.”

He added: “I’m not sure [Ucatt] wants a compromise solution. It seems they are slinging for a massive fight, and I do not know why they’ve picked HTC – we offer a good pension and benefits and do all the things a reputable plant hire company should do.”

One crane operator on the picket line told Construction News: “We hope it will make a difference – there is a determination.

“We don’t want to lose any money, it’s hard to lose a day’s wages, but it’s affecting [HTC Plant] more than it’s affecting us.”

Striking crane operators told Construction News their basic rates ranged from £9.50 to £9.82 an hour.

One operator who declined to be named said: “We want a decent rate of pay. We’re stuck in a cab on our own for 12-plus hours, we have no toilet break.”

In a letter circulated to employees and customers last week, HTC Plant said the average projected earnings for its tower crane operators in 2014/15 were £42,962, while the maximum projected earnings were £67,574.

The operator said: “If someone is earning that, you take out lodge money and travel expenses, then work out how many hours they have worked. You have got to ask how many of those hours are safe. HTC has got a lot to answer for.”

Another striking operator said: “Unskilled security on site are paid just £1 an hour less than us. Others employed by [HTC’s parent company] PC Harrington on the same site are being paid £15 to £18 an hour.

“We don’t get breaks and don’t have toilet facilities – we have to wee in bottles.”

Operators said they had worked 100-hour weeks in the past, and striking workers told Construction News they wanted an 8 per cent pay rise from HTC.

They said they had offered to work unpaid on Saturday 8 November in order to make up for lost time on Friday and to prevent sites from falling behind schedule but alleged they had been threatened with disciplinary action if they attempted to access sites.

HTC Plant director Dave Holder said the allegation was a “complete and utter fabrication”.

“As a business, you would want anyone to work for nothing if you could. What we said is that we would not authorise overtime payments for anyone who did not fulfil their duties on site today.

“If any offer was made to work for nothing that was not made to HTC at our office.”

Mr Holder said the basic rate paid to crane operators was correct, but that “for every hour they work they get a £2 bonus”.

He added that workers receive a number of benefits, including a London allowance of £5 a day, travel expenses and fuel allowance, and a lodging allowance, which were added to the projected pay figures.

Mr Holder said PCH staff earning a higher basic rate were not doing the same job as HTC crane operators, and were hired through labour agencies.

“They do not get any benefits, none of that, and at the end of the job they get a tap on the shoulder and let go.

“Nothing stops [the strikers] from going to work for an agency if that’s want they want. We don’t want them to go, but nobody’s forcing them to stay where they are.”

Mr Holder said it was also “utterly beyond our control” if contractors ask crane operators to work long hours.

“When the crane is rented, the contractor dictates to the worker, they effectively become employees of the hirer.

“We do not have any enforcement over what they do, it’s an agreement between them – whether it’s too many hours or, more often, not enough.”

Land Securities declined to comment.

Mace is the main contractor at the Nova scheme. A Mace spokeswoman said: “Mace respects the right of trade union members to strike and we are working to prepare contingency plans for our affected construction sites.

“We are not in a position to comment on the nature of the industrial dispute, as this is a matter for HTC and their employees.”

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