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Strike threat wins equal pay for all on construction site

by Simon Basketter

The threat of strike action by construction workers last week forced a subcontractor to increase the wages of the Polish workers it employs on one of its sites.

The GMB union said wages at the Isle of Grain power station site in Kent were being “undercut”. The union warned it would have “no hesitation” in sanctioning a national ballot for industrial action by engineering construction workers if the row was not resolved.

Workers demanded an explanation after it emerged that Polish workers were being paid £10.01 an hour rather than the nationally agreed rate of £14.

Union reps said they discovered the evidence after receiving a copy of a contract for a Polish worker.

The site was one of several affected by unofficial walkouts earlier this year.

The speed of the climbdown by employers shows how nervous they are about strike action.

The victory also proves that focusing on the subcontractors to improve the conditions of all workers is a better route than focusing on the divisive, “British jobs for British workers” slogan.

New power stations are currently being built at two sites, for EON at the Isle of Grain and for RWE at Staythorpe in Nottinghamshire.

Both sites are being managed by contractor Alstom. The firm is using sub-contractors Remak and Zre Katowice at the Isle of Grain and sub-contractors FNN and Mon Presior at Staythorpe.

Alstom said in a statement, “We have addressed the concerns raised by unions about the pay rates of Polish workers. These workers are now being paid the correct rate of pay.”

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny said, “We need the employers to cure this undercutting. If the employers do not agree to this the GMB will move to hold a ballot for official strike action across the engineering construction industry.”

The Unite union’s national officer, Tom Hardacre, said, “Unite will confront Remak to demand an explanation.

Side-by-side

“Overseas workers must be paid in line with agreed UK rates. Unite believes that the best way to achieve this is to ensure that UK workers and their unions work side-by-side with overseas workers.”

The GMB and Unite have organised a protest demonstration outside the Chatham job centre on Thursday this week to demand jobs for unemployed construction workers.

Meanwhile protests outside the Staythorpe power station in Nottinghamshire over jobs are ongoing, although they are now smaller as a number of workers believe the site to be full.

Dave Smeeton, one of the protest organisers said, “I think Staythorpe is pretty much over but the fight to make Alstom a pariah for its exclusion of skilled British labour isn’t over.”

Construction workers are set to march in Liverpool this Saturday, assembling at 10am on Myrtle Street for a march into the city.

Last week’s joint union meeting on construction in Eastbourne postponed calling a national protest until after a round of negotiations with employers has taken place at the end of the month.


Unity statement

Over 1,750 trade unionists have signed a statement calling for a united fight over jobs and pointing to the dangers of targeting “foreign workers”.

The statement came in response to the unofficial walkouts in construction. Last week workers at the Lindsey Oil refinery site, which was at the heart of the unofficial walkouts at the beginning of the year, signed the statement.

To read the statement, or to add your name, go to » www.petitiononline.com/jobs0209


Article information

News
Tue 17 Mar 2009, 18:45 GMT
Issue No. 2143
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