Engineering construction workers have voted to reject a new two-year pay-and-conditions deal despite a recommendation to accept both from union officials and from their national shop stewards' committee.
The deal was rejected 53% to 47% among Unite members. We do not know the figures in the other union in the industry, GMB.
According to engineering construction workers who spoke to Solidarity, the vote against the deal was fuelled by a new spate of contractors using sub-contractors with whole workforces temporarily "posted" from elsewhere in Europe to undercut the existing union agreement. Workers want tighter commitments from the bosses.
Union leaders have responded by calling for "further talks". Les Bayliss of Unite said: "Recent events at engineering construction sites at Lindsey, Staythorpe and Uskmouth have infuriated construction workers and as a result our members in the industry have rejected the employers' latest offer.
"It's now time to return to the negotiating table to thrash out an improved offer".
And Phil Davies of GMB: “The members want more progress on the skills and unemployment registers and they want to copper-fasten the pre-award audit to screen out employers who plan to undercut the agreed rates and terms and conditions.
"The employers' offer of working parties on the registers is seen as jam tomorrow and the members no longer trust the employers to deliver... The next step is to go back to the employers to see if they are up for further talks.”
The fact that the things that have "infuriated" workers are going on now must mean that further strikes of the sort seen in January-February and June are possible.
In previous talks the unions failed to win a demand for a register of unemployed workers in the industry that employers would have to use to fill vacancies. The bosses said that would illegally discriminate against non-UK workers, and agreed to set up a working party with the unions to consider establishing a “voluntary” database of unemployed staff.
The "register" demand would be an adaptation to the engineering construction industry of something that unions won and established for many years, in times of greater strength, in industries like printing and the docks. Some on the left have criticised it as a disguised form of "British jobs for British workers".
There is no indication that immigrant workers living in Britain would be unable to get on the register; but, in an industry as international as engineering construction, it could be argued that making it difficult for workers to apply from other countries for jobs in Britain is "protectionist". The answer to that problem might be for Unite and GMB to seek agreements with construction unions in other countries for reciprocal access for workers to unemployed registers in different countries.
The core grievance, however, is not about individual workers migrating or even moving temporarily to take jobs in engineering construction in Britain. It is about sub-contractors "posting" in whole workforces, a gambit that cannot make sense for bosses unless as a means of undercutting union agreements.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the recession has had a big impact on the engineering construction industry, with the number of large construction projects this year cut by nearly half – from 20 in January to 12 in August. But a number of large projects, notably power stations, are lined up for future years.