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Sparks halt traffic outside ECA gala dinner

Police closed London’s Park Lane to traffic yesterday evening as a demonstration by electricians against BESNA spilled onto the street.

The protestors, which looked to number between 50 and 100, waved anti-BESNA placards and the red flags of the union Unite.

The group had set up their lobby outside the Grosvenor House Hotel, where the Electrical Contractors Association was holding its annual dinner.

They were protesting against BESNA, a new agreement for electricians’ terms and conditions, which companies including Balfour Beatty Electrical Services, SPIE Matthew Hall, T Clarke and four others are requiring employees to sign.

The ECA said the electricians’ anger was not directed at the association, which is not introducing BESNA, but at the Heating and Ventilation Contractors Association.

The lobby set up a sound system playing music and chanted “arrest Balfour Beatty”. Bemused tourists and hotel and dinner guests looked on as the police formed a line between the demonstrators and the hotel.

London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, who was attending the dinner as the after dinner speaker, approached the throng and spoke to the protesters before entering the hotel.

Later, he quipped: “You get to my age and you think there can’t be anything new.
“But today is the first time in my life I have been asked to do the after dinner speech and address the picket line on the way in.”

In his speech said the country should invest more in infrastructure and technology.

ECA chief executive Steve Bratt said the demonstrators’ anger was not directed at the ECA itself. “They believe that some of the people that would be involved with BESNA would be here this evening, which they are not.”

Mr Bratt said the ECA did not support the approach taken with BESNA. “We believe in working collaboratively together.”

The ECA has established an “industry modernisation forum” which he said had held discussions over making changes to working arrangements. “We believe [it] will be a sustainable change rather than imposing something.”

“What we would suggest is that the HVCA come and be part of the modernisation forum.”

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