Contractor Drake & Scull and union AEEU held talks this week on an agreement under which the 500 electricians who were on strike in November would each receive a cash payment if they end their overtime ban.
No formal agreement had been reached as Building went to press, but it is understood that Drake & Scull has agreed in principle to a £2000 payment and is seeking approval from project manager Bechtel.
A construction trade unionist said: "I've never heard of a golden handshake in construction before, but it doesn't surprise me. The Millennium Dome has made the JLE unique as a construction project.
"Where else would workers be rewarded for staging an unofficial strike with a tax-free bonus? Clearly, the people running it realise electricians working on the project need a carrot to ensure they make that deadline." Drake & Scull and the union are scheduled to meet today or early next week, and are expected to finalise the agreement, which would see a resumption of seven-day, 24-hour shiftwork on the £3.8bn project before the end of January.
Drake & Scull confirmed that it is in talks with the AEEU but refused to discuss details. Bechtel declined to comment.
However, a project source said: "We are talking about a redundancy payment for the electricians, but it is linked to a number of other issues, including increasing output on the project. But we appreciate all these things do go together." AEEU official Frank Westerman refused to discuss details of the negotiations but said: "Talks between ourselves and Drake & Scull are progressing and we're hopeful of reaching a conclusion that is satisfactory to all our members." Electricians have been working a 48-hour week since October when the European Working Time Directive, which prevents employees working more hours without prior agreement, became law.
Electricians have until now refused to sign waiver forms drawn up by Drake & Scull to allow them to work extra hours. But a JLE electrician said: "We've told the union and Drake's we will sign waivers if they guarantee a £2000 cash payment and they seem to be listening.
"The ball is in their court. If they want to get the job finished quickly, they have to agree to our terms. But I think they realise something like this would really help kick-start the project for the new year." If the agreement is formalised, some electricians could collect the bonus within weeks as phased redundancies agreed with the union could start as soon as early February.