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High winds spark gas safety row

Shop steward claims 45 mph winds caused 250 men to stop work at the Isle of Grain terminal in Kent last week

A ROW erupted on the Isle of Grain gas terminal scheme in Kent last week when 250 men walked off the project, claiming it was too dangerous.

The men - members of engineering union Amicus and general union GMB - refused to work in high winds despite demands from the turnkey contractor on the scheme, global construction giant CB&I.

CB&I is treating the stoppage as an unofficial walkout and refusing to pay the men for the day.

The men have responded by cutting the time worked on the job to a 38hour week from 12-hour shifts until they get the cash.

One shop steward said: 'I called the Met Office and they said there were winds of around 45 mph on Tuesday, but the CB&I managers were trying to tell us it was 28 mph.

'There was no way we were going to be working in that wind, so we cabined up - we've got welders, platers, and all sorts of trades here, and some of them are working at 140 feet.

'This kind of attitude has been typical of CB&I throughout the entire job and I've been here a year.'

CB&I's treatment of the stoppage as an unofficial strike has forced Amicus and the GMB into repudiating the action.

But delegates from both unions have visited CB&I management in an attempt to resolve the issue.

CB&I's industrial relations manager, Ron Barron, refused to comment on the dispute.

The job was also hit by walkouts last year when engineers working for Skanska UK, the main contractor on the first phase of construction, protested over a subbie's use of travelling men on the project.

Any long-term reduction in working hours could set back the progress of the project, which is due for completion in 2008.

The expansion of the terminal for client National Grid involves the construction of three 190,000 cu m storage tanks, making the Isle of Grain the largest storage facility for liquid natural gas in the world, storing 12 per cent of the UK's LNG needs.