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Support the Electricians! North East report - 7 Sep 2011

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electricians-demoSupport the Electricians! No to de-skilling, no to pay cuts! North East report - 7 Sep 2011

On Wednesday 7 September, supporters of FRFI north east joined an early morning demonstration of around 40 electricians from Unite the union, protesting against eight major electrical employers threatening to withdraw from the Joint Industry Board (JIB) national industry agreement.

Bailey Building Services, Balfour Beatty Engineering Services, Tommy Clarke, Crown House Technologies, Gratte Brothers, MJN Colston, SES and SPIE Matthew Hall are proposing to withdraw from national collective agreements by March 2012, seeking to drive down conditions and pay.

The employers have set 3 new grades for electricians: metalworker £10.50 per hour, Wiring £12, Terminating £14. The current electricians JIB rate is £16.25p per hour across the board. For the worst hit this amounts to a 35% pay cut. Meanwhile, the chief executive of Balfour Beatty gave himself an 8% pay rise last year.

The proposals will effectively de-skill electricians who have worked to gain JIB recognised skills and corresponding pay grades. Site managers will solely dictate the makeup of work teams and therefore the pay grade of each worker on each team.  Redundancy provision, the guaranteed working week, mileage allowances, double time and apprenticeships will all be negotiated locally with each site rather than be accountable to a national agreement. The employers’ proposals also include a no strike clause, attempting to prevent industrial action.

The last time the electrical contractors attempted to cut wages by de-skilling the electrical trade in 1999 it provoked a series of coordinated strikes on the Jubilee Line, Royal Opera House, Pfizers and power generation projects across the UK.  Present on the early morning demonstration were electricians who had fought the de-skilling attempts in 1999, where employers Drake + Scull and Balfour Kilpatrick had attempted to bribe shop stewards, into agreeing to end industrial action. The shop stewards refused the bribe and recorded it, industrial action continued and the deskilling proposals were shelved. However the companies then blacklisted every worker on the Royal Opera House and Jubilee Line extension projects.

The Newcastle demonstration was in coordination with early morning demonstrations called in London and Manchester and was an unofficial action of rank and file members coordinated around facebook and the Site Worker magazine. It was encouraging to see grass roots organization bypassing union bureaucracy and action being taken. Despite Unite the Union paying lip service to the struggle not one of the union reps for the North East Unite in construction sector bothered to turn up. The electricians on the demonstration discussed planning further protests and taking steps to organise banners and leaflets for agitational propaganda.  This independent working class action must be supported and encouraged.