FINDING workers for the massive Olympic construction programme will be hard enough ? but keeping them under control once the building work begins could be an even tougher task, writes Grant Prior. Stable industrial relations will be vital to getting the stadiums built on time.
But there are ominous signs in the major trades ? civils, mechanical and electrical and steel ? that the Olympic games contractors might face a rough ride from an increasingly militant workforce.
The unions are pushing for a Heathrow T5-style agreement to be adopted on major Olympic jobs. The idea is to offer industryleading pay and conditions in return for a stable and dedicated workforce. But, despite earnings of more than £50,000 a year, the job has been blighted since December by a series of strikes over bonus payments.
A source at main contractor Laing O'Rourke said: 'We have stuck to our side of things but still the job gets disrupted.' Trouble is also brewing with the wider Construction Industry Joint Council pay agreement, which covers 600,000 workers. Unions are demanding a 66 per cent increase while employers are standing firm at 9.4 per cent. A union source said: 'Civils workers have traditionally been the least militant but what happened at T5 has changed that.'
Industry leaders are hoping that the pioneering Major Projects Agreement will be used to cover the electricians on Olympic stadium jobs.
But so far the only project on which the deal has been used is at Heathrow T5, because employers and clients elsewhere have been put off by the high cost.
Sparks receive higher pay under the agreement in return for increased productivity and better industrial relations.
A union source said: 'The sparks haven't gone on strike at T5 but there has been a series of local disputes there. No one else seems keen to use the agreement but the workers will now see those wages as a benchmark for future big jobs, so there could be trouble if it's not used at the Olympics. Once workers get used to earning big money it creates problems to pay them less.'
Steel erectors are vital to any stadium job and the pay deal that has controlled the sector for nearly 25 years is in danger of being ripped up.
The latest offer on the Naeci 'Blue Book' agreement is currently being voted on but the employers say they '? no longer believe the Naeci can provide a viable basis for industry employment relations beyond April 2007.' A union source at Amicus said: 'The steel erectors as a group have always earned more than the rest of the engineering construction sector.
'If the Naeci agreement goes by the board it means they will be negotiating on a jobby-job basis, which can cause all sorts of problems.
'All bets will be off and some projects could be held to ransom.'