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London crane strike looms

News: Drivers reject AEEU/Hewden Stuart pay deal as 'peanuts'and threaten to bring sites to a standstill

WORK ON MORE than 20 sites across the City of London and Docklands could be brought to a standstill by tower crane drivers angry that last week's pay deal with plant hire giant Hewden Stuart is not good enough.

More than 150 disgruntled drivers will meet next week to discuss possible strike action after operators attacked as insufficient the deal, which will see their hourly pay rise from £6 to £7.

Rank-and-file leaders are also warning that stoppages could spread to sites outside London.

Shop stewards with electrical and engineering union AEEU said the drivers are being treated like secondclass citizens.

One said: 'We have gone backwards on this. We've still got to work a full weekend to get a decent wage.

The mood of the men is very angry and they want to do something about it.'

Another driver added: 'We want £8 an hour. Labourers get more than us and we want to be on a par with everybody else.'

But AEEU national officer Geoff Whitlow, who led the union negotiating team, defended the deal. He said: 'We wouldn't have accepted it if it wasn't a good deal.' And Hewden Stuart director Ray Ledger said: 'It is a fair deal.'

The new agreement comes into force at the start of December and runs until January 2001.

Amoney-purchase pension scheme for drivers was also discussed at the meeting but has yet to be approved by the Hewden Stuart board.

The talks have also caused a rift between union officials. One said: 'The crane drivers are in the strongest position of anyone on site and they need to be told that.

'This deal is a joke. It consists of an extra pound an hour but drivers lose their guaranteed bonus under it.

In reality they are being offered peanuts.'