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Pay chaos to hit steel sites

Steel erectors raise fears of free-for-all if bosses tear up Naeci Blue Book agreement

A PAY deal which has kept the peace on engineering construction sites and major steelwork jobs for 25 years will be ripped up next April.

More than 20,000 workers are currently voting on the latest pay offer under the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry 'Blue Book' agreement.

But employers at the Engineering Construction Industry Association have vowed: 'Although we have given strong support to the Naeci in the past, we no longer believe it can provide a viable basis for industry employment relations beyond April 2007.' The Blue Book covers welders, platers and fitters in the engineering construction sector.

But it also covers steel erectors on major commercial jobs and industry experts fear dumping the deal will create a pay free-for-all, which could cause chaos on major projects like the Olympic 2012 stadiums.

A source at engineering and electrical union Amicus said: 'It will be a return to the days of negotiating rates on a jobby-job basis. Steel erectors in the south-east will be the ones making out of this. They can name their price and crank up demands as jobs go along.

'The Olympics mean there will be work everywhere, so they can ask for what they want and if they don't like it just move on to the next site.' Employers have decided to dump the Naeci after workers at Heathrow's T5 and Wembley demanded and won bonus payments above the agreed rates.

The latest pay offer is for a 3.5 per cent increase, taking typical weekly earnings to £802 for a craftsman on a major job.

Not one person voted to accept it at T5 or Wembley. A total of 323 voted against. Workers at the Esso refinery at Fawley, Southampton, also rejected the offer by 154 votes to 34.

The Amicus source said: 'The union is recommending the deal but it hasn't gone down well so far on site.' Amicus national officer Tom Hardacre said: 'Before the national agreement the industry was full of turmoil. Since it came in we've had 25 years of industrial relations stability.'