Five of the eight construction contractors threatening to withdraw from the union-negotiated agreement governing workers’ pay and conditions have issued the Unite union with legal notice of their intention to introduce new contracts from 7 December.
The move by the contractors, who include industry giant Balfour Beatty, represents a significant raising of the stakes in what could become a labour war in the construction industry. Previously, the contractors had intimated that they would wait until March 2012 before withdrawing from collective agreements. Workers have upped the pace of their campaign accordingly.
A 150-strong demonstration blocked the entrance to the prestigious Olympic stadium site in London on Wednesday 14 September, and workers elsewhere in the UK, including at Balfour Beatty’s Papermill site in Manchester, also demonstrated. Further actions are planned at the Farringdon Crossrail site in London for 6:30am on Wednesday 21 September and Manchester’s BBC Media City at the same time.
The rank-and-file paper Site Worker, which has been integral to the coordination of the campaign so far, has emphasised the desperate need for strike action by workers working on sites operated by the “big 8”. Site Worker’s Alan Keys said “the 8 have declared war, and 5 of them are going for a rout by issuing the 7 December deadline letters. Rank-and-file workers on these sites must respond by downing tools and walking off site.”
Electricians and pipe-fitters at the Balfour Beatty-operated Grangemouth site took wildcat strike action on the morning of Wednesday 21 September and activists are now calling for construction unions to ballot their members for official strikes. Keys said: “Unite needs to be put under pressure to negotiate a proper deal for us. A ballot for strike action of all electricians, pipe-fitters and other trades would make that more likely.”Site Worker is calling on Unite members to bombard national officer Bernard McAuley with emails demanding that he names a date for a national ballot.
Keys said: “We can’t afford to sit back and wait or it will be too late and we will be on £10 .50 an hour [the current across-the-board rate is £16.25/hour]. We must force the issue and spread these actions across the country.”
Keys called for “blockades [and] occupations until an agreement has been reached.”