LAING O'Rourke bosses were hoping to broker a peace deal yesterday (Wednesday) to avert threatened strike action by builders at Heathrow's T5.
Industrial relations experts at the contractor were due to meet union officials in a bid to stop the 900-strong civil engineering workforce walking out in a row over bonus payments.
Industrial action has been pencilled in for December 8, 15 and 22 as Ucatt, general union GMB and transport union TGWU organise a strike ballot. But O'Rourke chiefs are confident they can head off the stoppage threat with a lastminute offer.
The workforce wants an extra £1 an hour added to the minimum bonus rate of £2.08 an hour to compensate for extra travelling time on the job.
An O'Rourke source said: 'We are trying to reach a settlement without the need for any sort of strike.
'No one wants a strike in the run-up to Christmas so we will be looking for a deal.' The source said that O'Rourke would be prepared to offer an increase in the minimum bonus rate to £2.30.
Union sources said that they would be looking for nearer £2.50 before accepting any sort of offer.
The O'Rourke source said: 'We won't offer the whole pound they were originally asking for but we don't want to fall out over pennies either at this stage of the job.' He added: 'The extra money we are talking about here makes our workers top of the league on the site.
'They get more than the erectors and the electricians.
They got a 9.25 per cent rise in their basic this year and a similar rise in the bonus payment means they remain the bestpaid builders in the country.' O'Rourke is also confident that the unions would find it difficult to organise a ballot on the job.
The source said: 'It is a legal requirement to have everyone's names and addresses for an official ballot and I think that would make it a struggle at T5 because some of the unions don't have all that information.'