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Skills drought sparks one-year pay deal fear

NEWS - Skills shortages seen as spur to shorter term pay deal to exploit chance to up wages

UNION leaders are believed to be pushing for a one-year pay and conditions deal to replace the three-year agreement which runs out next June.

Discussions over a new Working Rule Agreement ? which covers 600,000 building workers ? are expected to start early in the new year.

Some officials at Ucatt, the TGWU and the GMB are thought to be in favour of a shorter deal because of the current volatility in the wages market.

The move would fly in the face of recent union moves for longer deals to promote stability in the industry.

The unions will sit down with employers ? led by the Construction Confederation under the umbrella of the Construction Industry Joint Council ? to discuss the new agreement early in the new year.

One senior confederation source said: 'A few people on the union side have been making noises about a oneyear deal.

'It's amazing how they have changed their tune now there is a lot of talk about skills shortages.

'It used to be all about stability and long-term guarantees but now it seems they want a short-term deal so they are free to renegotiate upwards quickly if the labour shortages continue to bite.' TGWU construction secretary Bob Blackman said: 'It's very early in the process. The current agreement doesn't come to an end until June 28 2006 so we still have a bit of time but we are looking at it.

'I think the confederation may have spoken to some individuals who have talked about a one-year deal but they were just expressing a view.

'Generally since the agreement was established it has always been a multiyear deal.

'It sounds like someone is just rolling the dice to see what happens.' The current agreement pays a basic rate of £9 an hour for craft workers with general labourers picking up £6.77. It represented a 23 per cent pay rise over three years.