Three years is a long time when it comes to wage agreements. Back in 2007 it made perfect sense to look at a three-year deal for rates of pay for electricians: employers could plan ahead and price for work with certainty and workers knew that whatever happened they would get a decent pay rise

Unfortunately, the worst economic decline on record got in the way. In the good old days of 2007 the ECA employers were willing to offer a 14.8% pay rise over three years, based on a 38-hour week: 4.67% in 2008, 4.5% in 2009 and 5% in 2010. Fastforward to 2009 and the economy has stalled, m&e work has dried up and clients are looking for price reductions, not hikes.

Suddenly, three-year deals don’t look so tempting. Employers are struggling to take this year’s 4.5% on the chin, and it’s certainly 4.5% more than most industries will have awarded their staff this year. Next year’s planned 5% is totally out of step with the market.

Employers had sought to renegotiate next year’s agreement but talks between the ECA and trade union Unite have broken down without any changes to the terms of the 2010 deal.

The decision leaves employers in a very difficult position. Firms up and down the country are suffering, but still believe direct employment and looking after your staff is better for business than going down the labour agency route. Yet some employers will be considering whether they can still afford to stay within the ECA/Unite Joint Industry Board agreements.

It seems that common sense is prevailing and employers that are losing out on tenders because of soaring wage costs are making local arrangements to put themselves back in with a chance of winning work. At the end of the day, electrical operatives would rather lose 5% of their pay than have no job at all.

The days of a true national agreement are over.