Calling for victory over ruthless employers, Construction and Engineering workers from many parts of Britain, rallied 100 strong outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.
The rally called by the GMB union pledged to restore the National Agreement for the Engineering Construction Industry (NAECI) conditions of employment for all workers on British sites.
The NAECI governs terms, conditions, working hours, pay and safety for workers on construction sights and it is being abused by almost all the main industry players the GMB said.
The GMB said employers are setting out to undermine the national agreement, not only on pay but also on safety, and as well are out to break the union.
An independent audit has confirmed serious underpayment of overseas workers on the Staythorpe site by Italian company Somi, a sub contractor to main contractor Alstom.
The GMB believes that there is also concrete evidence of the same practices at Isle of Grain, and Lindsey Oil Refinery sites.
Last year there were unofficial strikes at major engineering construction projects across the UK, which saw a shaken Business and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson rushing to assure Parliament, ‘We have been informed that all sub-contractors adhere to the NAECI.’
An official strike was narrowly averted by the GMB after employers conceded ‘a pre award’ audit to screen out undercutting in future contracts.
It emerged that Somi falsely informed it was paying their workers in line with the national agreements, but an audit exposed this deceit, says the GMB.
Tony Walters from Doncaster said: ‘We don’t object to foreign workers coming in but they are using migrant labour at a cheaper rate.
‘I’m 63 and have worked in the construction industry all my life. I’m a very skilled worker with years of experience and I can’t get a job.
‘We need some leadership from somewhere, every worker feels it.’
Dave Charlton who works at the West Burton Power Station said: ‘We are here to make sure our children are on decent rates of pay and not coming home with a minimum wage for skilled tradesmen.
‘Alstom, the German RWE and Seamans are all using foreign labour.
‘LOR and Staythorpe are bringing in foreign labour and saying they are on the same rates as British workers.’
Andrew Bowie added: ‘We work to a high health and safety standard here. We don’t know who is working what. They are bring in men as skilled tradesmen and 75 % of them have failed the welding test so they were sent out as riggers.
‘The other day I saw them lifting a 10 tonne tank with two 5 tonne straps. You should have two 10 ton straps on something like that in case one breaks.
‘Well one broke and the impact destroyed a forklift and a generator. We were just lucky there wasn’t a death or injury from it,’ he alleged.
Phil Davis GMB steward said: ‘We want a register of skilled tradesmen but the employers are resisting it saying it takes away their hiring and firing rights.
‘But the GMB is doing its own register to make sure we have the information to pin-point which workers are being discriminated against.
‘Its not about discriminating against immigrant workers. It’s about discriminating against British workers.
‘We know there is a black list and hundreds of thousands of construction workers are on it. Every single contractor has its own black list that discriminates, and it has got to stop.
‘It’s not British workers who are abusing foreign workers, its the employers and we have got to stop it.’
FTO Andy Fletcher, (full time officer) said: ‘We knew Somi were underpaying and when we caught them out they said sorry, we’ll pay it back.
‘But that is not enough, we want every contractor to use UK payroll systems so there is no fudging on tax.
‘Somi paid its workers in Italy and that is why it took years to find out about it. They have denied these workers their contractual rights.
‘Every worker is entitled to long weekend leave at times, so they can spend time with their families.
‘These men were told if you go home, don’t come back.
‘Then there is the safety issue. Our health and safety reps need to check skills, like welding but the contractors are refusing to show the union the documentation which verifies skill levels.’
Paul Kenny, General Secretary of the GMB said: ‘Employers are cutting pay shipping people in from all over the world. Bad economics is what these employers are about.
‘We are not propping up an unequal society, with worker pitted against worker. That is not what the argument is about. It’s about exploitation and employers trying to drive down terms and conditions.
‘We have faced this before.’
The GMB General Secretary acknowledged that the unofficial strike, had lead the fight without official backing.
He said: ‘We made the mistake of thinking that it was under control. Trade union organisation is like a garden, if you don’t tend it it goes to seed. We allowed people to pay lip service to what was happening at Lindsey.
‘The Polish, Italian and Greek unions were telling us that their members were underpaid. When it was exposed it was clear that Alstom were bringing in labour to undercut rates in this country.
‘The ACAS report was a whitewash. They aim to break organised labour in the industry, but we stood up unofficially and officially, we are parts of the union.
‘We must re-establish trade unionism in this industry or go the way of the Dodo. We must organise a proper register.
‘Officially we are following policies to provide opportunities to give leadership, otherwise the less official parts of the union will take the lead.
‘It’s about exploitation. If you exploit any worker you will have a big fight on your hands.’
Kenny said strike action had been decided but he could not say the date, but another worker shouted out 19th of February.
He concluded: ‘If a national dispute is what it takes then the GMB will be at the front of it. We are are not running away any more, we are getting stuck in’.
The GMB are demanding:
• Alstom repay in full all monies owing to employees as a result of the underpayment.
• All contractors to use a UK based payroll system.
• Auditors to undertake a full investigation into each contractor to confirm compliance with periodic long weekends requirements.
• All contractors must comply fully with section 9.4 of the new agreement that insists that employees who are ‘transferred in’ existing employees, not new starters.
• Without substantiated evidence the transferee will be treated as a new starter and the contractor will be instructed by Alstom to remove the worker from the site.
• All transferees and new starters must attend inductions which will be attended by designated shop stewards at times agreed with Alstom management and designated stewards. If a contractor flouts clause s9.4 they must be removed from the site.
• Alstom must ensure all contractors provide details of employer competence assessment procedures to Trade Union Site Safety Reps upon request.
• Alstom must remove Somi from the Staythorpe project.